- 20 Sep 2023
- René Armas Maes
- BizAv Market Insight
How competitive is the Light Twin-Engine Turbine Helicopter market, and how likely are new product launches in the near to mid-term? René Armas Maes assesses the market for in-production models...Back to Articles
The light twin-engine turbine helicopter market is characterized by multipurpose utility helicopters designed and built by a selection of well-established helicopter manufacturers. The missions these aircraft are deployed to fulfil ranges widely – from VIP and corporate travel to emergency medical services, maritime operations, law enforcement and more.
Currently there are four OEMs producing light twin-engine turbine helicopter models. Among them is Airbus with the Airbus H135. Easily adaptable to multiple missions, the H135 is considered a cost-effective, high-performance rotorcraft, and enjoys a distinguished reputation as a low maintenance aircraft.
With more than 1,000 units in operation for 270+ customers across 58 countries, the Airbus H135 has accumulated more than 2.5 million flight hours over the years.
Elsewhere, the Leonardo AW109 is the current production model of the legendary Agusta A109. A lightweight, eight-seat multi-purpose helicopter, the A109 was the first all-Italian helicopter to be mass-produced.
The majority of AW109s are fitted with a retractable wheeled tricycle undercarriage, providing greater comfort than skids. Several units also feature a quickly convertible interior, allowing operators the flexibly of re-configuring the cabin for different roles (such as VIP to medevac, and back).
Meanwhile, the Bell 429, produced by Bell Helicopter is capable of single-pilot IFR missions. The main segment Bell was targeting with development of the Bell 429 was the Emergency Medical Services industry, though it has proven popular with several others, too.
Essentially, the Bell 429 is a stretched version of the older Bell 427, allowing for a larger cabin to accommodate stretchers and the systems required to support IFR operations. The Bell 429 employs an all-new modular airframe concept and an advanced rotor blade design while retaining the derivative engine and rotor drive system of the 427.
Last, but not least, is the MD Helicopter Explorer 500 series. Currently incorporating the MD 500E, MD 520N and the recently upgraded MD 530F, the MD 500-series is equipped with a five-blade main rotor system while the fuselage and tail are composed of corrosion- resistant composite materials.
Powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW200 turboshafts, aircraft in this series can be flown single pilot while carrying up to six passengers.
When considering whether new product launches are feasible for the light twin-engine turbine helicopter manufacturers, it is first important to assess how the segment has performed in terms of new aircraft sales over the last few years.
Assessing General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) reports for the period, sales within this segment averaged 82 units annually between 2018 and 2022, see Table A (below). During that timeframe, the OEMs in this sector suffered a negative Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of -0.4%, though it is important to highlight that Bell Helicopter bucked the trend, enjoying a positive CAGR of almost 10% between 2018 and 2022.
As of the end of Q2 2023, 36 new light twin-engine turbine helicopter units had been delivered meaning that at least 46 additional units would need to be shipped by the OEMs in this segment by year-end to match the 2018-2022 average.
Given that the average sales in Q2 and Q4 in this segment appear to historically be the strongest quarters for shipments, it seems feasible that 2023 Year-End shipments could match or exceed 82 units.
When considering possible OEM investment in new models, investors will naturally look to the relative health of the market. The negative Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 0.4% between 2018 to 2022 may deter further investments (other than product upgrades) for the present.
The same is likely to apply to the question of new players entering a market. Already dominated by some well-established OEMs (Airbus, Bell and Leonardo), it would seem that now is not the time to challenge for market share. Airbus and Bell enjoyed a 73% share of unit deliveries between 2018 and 2022 and appear to have an even firmer grip of deliveries in the first half (H1) of 2023, accounting for 81% of all units sold.
While Leonardo claimed a further 11% of H1 2023 sales, it’s encouraging to note that MD Helicopter delivered the same number of units (three) as it did for the entirety of 2022. Thus, sales growth should be expected at MD this year.
Despite less than encouraging CAGR values for most of the players within this segment over the last five years, the light twin-engine turbine helicopter OEMs should continue reaching for an attainable average of 100 units per year over the next few years, but without introducing a new model into the mix.
The prudent approach for the time being is for the OEMs to refresh/upgrade their product offerings to achieve their targets.
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