Light Single-Engine Turbine Heli Market Review

How competitive is the Light Single-Engine Turbine Helicopter market, and how likely are new product launches in the near- to mid-term? René Armas Maes assesses the marketplace...

René Armas Maes  |  20th September 2023
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    René Armas Maes
    René Armas Maes

    René Armas Maes, Vice President, Commercial, Jet Link International LLC, is an international...

    Airbus H125 helicopters flying a mountain operation

    The light single-engine turbine helicopter market is characterized by multipurpose utility helicopters that are designed and manufactured by various helicopter entities. At least one helicopter in the segment has been in production since 1985 and remains available today.

    Typically, these aircraft are utilized for the VIP and corporate sectors, military, law enforcement, search and rescue operations, and commercial operators (including the charter, aerial surveying, tourism and aerial photography industries).

    Meet Today’s Leading Light Single-Engine Turbine Helicopters

    Among the leading players on the light single-engine helicopter market is the MD Helicopter 500 series, a family of utility helicopters originally developed from the Hughes 500 (a civilian version of the US Army's OH-6A rotorcraft).

    The series currently includes the MD 500E, MD 520N, and the most recently upgraded MD 530F. First introduced in 1985, this platform typically seats six passengers plus two on the flight deck.

    One of the more recent market entrants is the Bell 505, introduced at the 2013 Paris Airshow and first delivered in 2017. A clean sheet design, the Bell 505 uses some dynamic components from its Bell 206 sibling while its airframe takes advantage of lighter weight composite material, and its cockpit is equipped with the Garmin G1000H glass avionics suite.

    Bell also produces the Bell 407, a four-blade, single-engine, civil utility helicopter. Development started in 1993 when Bell sought to replace the 206 JetRanger/LongRanger series. The resulting Bell 407 is itself a development on Bell's 206L LongRanger.

    The Airbus H130 (previously the Eurocopter EC130 which entered service in 2001) is a development from the earlier Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil. The model has enjoyed success in the aerial tourism market, but today Airbus markets it for utility operations.

    Next to the H130 on the Airbus production line is its Airbus H125 stablemate. Previously known as the AS350 B3e, the H125 can seat up to six passengers and a pilot, and is known for its high-altitude performance, holding the world record for the highest-altitude landing and take-off (29,029ft).

    Also in the light single-engine turbine helicopter market is the Leonardo AW119, which has been in production since 2016. An eight-seat multi-role utility helicopter, the model was originally known as the Agusta A119 Koala.

    Robinson Helicopter was a prolific producer of piston rotorcraft before stepping into the turbine helicopter market with the Robinson R66. Now it’s a prolific producer of both types. The R66 offers five seats and a separate cargo compartment. It is slightly faster and smoother than the Robinson R44 from which it is derived and received FAA type certification in 2010.

    Last, but not least in the light single-engine helicopter market is the Enstrom 480 series, originally developed to meet the US Army New Training Helicopter requirements.

    The Enstrom 480 combines power and weight requirements with lower direct operating costs, and it targets the military pilot training, law enforcement and emergency medical services, commercial and agricultural sectors.

    Table A - Light Single Engine Turbine Helicopter OEM Sales 2018-2022

    Light Single-Engine Turbine Helicopter Market Overview

    When considering if new product launches are feasible for the light single-engine turbine helicopter segment – a market of few new market entrants and relatively few clean-sheet product introductions – it is first important to assess how the segment has performed in terms of sales over the last few years.

    According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), sales within this segment averaged 372 units annually between 2018 and 2022 showing a positive Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 1.1%, see Table A (above).

    At the end of Q1 2023, a total of 100 units had been delivered meaning that at least 272 additional units needed to be shipped by year-end to meet the 2018- 2022 average.

    Given that the average sales in Q2 and Q4 in this segment appear, historically, to be the strongest shipment quarters for this market (accounting for an average 63% of total year sales between them), it is feasible that shipments over the remainder of 2023 will exceed 272 units. Thus, growth can be expected for this key segment.

    What Chance of Seeing a New Model Soon?

    When considering possible investments in new models within the light single-engine turbine helicopter segment, investors will naturally look to the relative health of the market in terms of shipments, new prospects, possible platform usage (i.e., corporate, medevac, surveillance, border control, etc.), advancements in technology (engine efficiency, lighter airframe structures, etc.), upcoming military tenders, and the likelihood of a good return on investment.

    That is exactly what we saw Robinson Helicopter do when its investors saw an opportunity for the Robinson R66 in 2007. That opportunity compelled the company to take a first step into the turbine helicopter market. At the time the company identified a gap at the lower end of the market.

    Acting on the opportunity paid handsomely for Robinson, with over 1,000 R66s shipped and no sign of demand easing. Bell subsequently introduced the 505 as a clean-sheet design to compete with the R66 for a share of that market.

    Despite single-digit CAGR values over the last five years within this segment, the leading light single-engine turbine helicopter manufacturers should continue reaching new sales highs, making it fairly likely that we will see a new market entrant in the short- to mid-term future.

    Another question might be whether production of the MD 500 series and Enstrom 480 series will continue, given the low sales numbers over the last five years, and if so, whether any perceived market gaps will be left.

    Though it could be argued the new light single-engine turbine helicopter market has been relatively static (product-wise) over the years, there could be some interesting moves ahead for the key players in the industry... Stay tuned!

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    René Armas Maes

    René Armas Maes

    Editor, Buyer Strategy & Finance

    René Armas Maes, Vice President, Commercial, Jet Link International LLC, is an international aviation consultant and experienced C-Level professional. He has built a successful track record for developing and delivering Business Aviation strategies for Fortune 500 companies, Venture Capital firms, and HNWIs.

    René is a regular columnist for Bloomberg (financial), America Economia (business) and a speaker at aviation conferences worldwide.



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