- 01 Jun 2021
- Mike Chase
- Helicopter Comparison
Mike Chase provides information on two popular single-engine light turbine helicopters with a view to pinpointing the Airbus H125 (formerly the Eurocopter AS350B-3e) and Bell 505 Jet Ranger X within the market.Back to Articles
Over the following paragraphs, we’ll analyse the performance of the Airbus H125 and the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X to see how they compare within the new and pre-owned helicopter market. We’ll consider a variety of productivity parameters (including payload, range, speed, and cabin size), along with the current market values.
Are all single-turbine engine helicopters created equal? Currently, there are 40 single-turbine light helicopters in operation, and 18 have a Maximum Take-off Weight (MTOW) below 4,000lbs, while twenty-two exceed 4,000lbs MOW.
In this comparison we have chosen an aircraft from each side of the 4,000lbs bar, including the Airbus H125 (MTOW 4,960lbs) and the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X (3,680lbs). Despite this difference, both helicopters offer the same cabin volume (61 cubic feet). So what are the pros and cons of each, and to whom would each appeal?
The original model within this series, the Eurocopter AS350B-3, was produced between 1998 and 2012, being replaced by the Eurocopter AS350B-3e model between 2013 and 2015. In 2016, Airbus renamed the AS350B-3e model the Airbus H125.
The Airbus H125 can be configured for four or five passengers (plus one pilot seat). Featuring a new dual-channel FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control)-equipped Turbomeca Arriel 2D engine and a dual LCD-screen Vehicle and Engine Multi-function Display (VEMD), the H125 is an extremely popular model in today’s single-engine turbine helicopter market.
Bell 505 Jet Ranger X
The Bell 505 Jet Ranger X has been in production since 2015. It is a short-range, light single-engine five-seat helicopter (including one pilot), and features a fully integrated Garmin G1000H glass cockpit with twin LCD screens, and a Turbomeca Arrius 2R engine with dual-channel FADEC.
Fleet Data: Worldwide Appeal
As of this writing, there are 1,040 Airbus H125s, and 337 Bell 505 Jet Ranger X helicopters in operation worldwide. The Airbus H125 is owned by operators across 72 countries, with the United States accounting for 24% (252 units), and China 9% (97 units) of the total fleet. By comparison, the Bell 505 is owned by operators across 52 countries, with the United States accounting for 23% (76 units), and China 11% (38 units) of the total fleet.
The largest Airbus H125 fleet owners are REACH Air Medical Services, LLC (USA) and Sky Helicopters, SA (Spain), with 15 units each. By comparison, the largest Bell 505 Jet Ranger X single fleet owner is EDIC Horizon International Flight Academy (United Arab Emirates), with 12.
The data contained in Table A is sourced from each OEM. As we have mentioned previously, a potential operator should focus on payload capability as a key factor. The Airbus H125’s ‘Available Payload with Maximum Fuel’ (987lbs) is higher than that offered by the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X (826lbs).
Table A: Airbus H125 vs Bell 505 Payload Comparison
Chart A, courtesy of UPCAST JETBOOK, offers a cross-section comparison, showing the Airbus H125’s cabin has more width (5.41 ft. vs 4.8 ft.) but slightly less height (4.26 ft. vs 4.41 ft.) than the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X’s cabin. Not depicted by the cross-section, the cabin length of the Airbus H125 is shorter than that of the Airbus H125, at 6.56ft. vs 7.17ft.
Chart A: Airbus H125 vs Bell 505 Cabin Comparison
The Airbus H125 has 35cu.ft of external luggage space, but none internally, whereas the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X has 18cu.ft of external baggage space and none internally.
The typical seating configuration for Airbus H125 offers more passenger seats than the Bell 505 at 6 seats (including one crew member). The Bell 505 Jet Ranger X offers four passenger seats, and one seat for the pilot.
As depicted by Chart B, using Columbus, Mississippi as the origin point, the Airbus H125 helicopter – with a ‘Tanks Full’ range of 359nm – travels further than the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X (306nm range), per OEM data.
Chart B: Airbus H125 vs Bell 505 Range Comparison
As mentioned previously, the Airbus H125 is powered by a single Turbomeca Arriel 2D turbine engine that offers 952shp output. By comparison, the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X is powered by a single Turbomeca Arrius 2R turbine engine producing 505shp at takeoff, and 459shp continuous.
Helicopter Usage Comparison
Chart C shows the usage of both helicopters broken into market groupings. As depicted, the largest defined usage for the Airbus H125 helicopter is ‘Charter’ (35%) followed closely by Business (31%). The most popular defined usage for the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X (apart from ‘Other’) is ‘Business’ (48%) and ‘Charter’ (13%).
Chart C: Airbus H125 vs Bell 505 Usage Comparison
Cost Per Mile Comparison
Chart D details the ‘Cost per Mile’ for our comparative helicopters (per JETNET data), factoring the direct costs (no depreciation), and with each aircraft flying a 200nm mission. The average US Jet A fuel cost used for December 2021 was $5.04 per gallon.
The Airbus H125 shows a higher cost per nautical mile at $5.83, than the Bell 505 ($4.99); a difference of 16.8%.
Chart D: Airbus H125 vs Bell 505 Cost Per Mile Comparison
Total Variable Cost
The ‘Total Variable Cost’ illustrated in Chart E is defined as the Cost of Fuel Expense, Maintenance Labor Expense, Scheduled Parts Expense and Miscellaneous Trip Expense.
The Total Variable Cost for the Airbus H125 computes at $498 per hour, which is 2.3% more per hour than the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X ($487 per hour), as sourced from JETNET.
Chart E: Airbus H125 vs Bell 505 Variable Hourly Cost Comparison
Table B contains the ‘new’ price (2021 model) for each helicopter, as sourced from JETNET Market Values report. The average speed, cabin volume and maximum payload values are from each OEM, while the number of helicopters in-operation and percentage ‘For Sale’ are as reported by JETNET.
Table B: Airbus H125 vs Bell 505 Market Comparison
The Airbus H125 had 1.4% of its fleet ‘For Sale’ at the time of writing, compared to 5.3% for the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X. The average number of new and pre-owned transactions per month for the Airbus H125 averaged 13 units month, over the preceding 12 months, compared to the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X (seven units).
Asking Prices & Quantity
The used helicopter market for the Airbus H125 showed a total of 13 helicopters ‘For Sale’ (at the time of writing) with 11 displaying asking prices ranging between $1.9m and $3.17m.
Eighteen used Bell 505 Jet Ranger X helicopters available for sale were also reviewed, eleven of which had asking prices which ranged between $1.2m and $1.9m.
While each serial number is unique, the Airframe (AFTT) hours and age/condition will cause great variations in price. Of course, the final negotiated price remains to be agreed between the seller and buyer before the sale of an aircraft is completed.
Helicopters that are owned and operated by businesses are often depreciable for income tax purposes under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). Under MACRS, taxpayers are allowed to accelerate the depreciation of assets by taking a greater percentage of the deductions during the first few years of the applicable recovery period.
In certain cases, helicopters may not qualify under the MACRS system and must be depreciated under the less favorable Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) where depreciation is based on a straight-line method, meaning that equal deductions are taken during each year of the applicable recovery period. In most cases, recovery periods under ADS are longer than recovery periods available under MACRS.
There is a variety of factors that taxpayers must consider in determining if a helicopter may be depreciated, and, if so, the correct depreciation method and recovery period that should be utilized. For example, helicopters used in charter service (i.e., Part 135) are normally depreciated under MACRS over a seven-year recovery period or under ADS using a twelve-year recovery period.
Helicopters used for qualified business purposes, such as Part 91 business use flights, are depreciated under MACRS over a period of five years, or by using ADS with a six-year recovery period. There are certain uses of the helicopter, such as non-business flights, which may have an impact on the allowable depreciation deduction available each year.
Table C depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2021-model Airbus H125 in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a new 2021 retail price of $3.17m, per JETNET Market Values.
Table C: Airbus H125 Sample MACRS Tax Depreciation Schedule
Table D depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2021-model Bell 505 Jet Ranger X in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a new 2021 retail price of $1.72m, per JETNET Market Values.
Table D: Bell 505 Sample MACRS Tax Depreciation Schedule
The points in Chart F are centered on the same helicopters. Pricing used in the vertical axis is as published in the JETNET Market Price values for model year 2021. The productivity index requires further discussion in that the factors used can be arbitrary.
Productivity can be defined (and it is here) as the multiple of three factors:
1. Tanks Full Range with available fuel;
2. The Long-Range cruise speed flown to achieve that range;
3. The cabin volume available for passengers and amenities.
Others may choose different parameters, but serious helicopter buyers are usually impressed with Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size. After consideration of the Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size, we can conclude that the Airbus H125 displays a high level of productivity, but at nearly twice the cost (purchased new).
Chart F: Airbus H125 vs Bell 505 Productivity Comparison
The Airbus H125 posts a much higher costs per mile (+16.8%) and variable operating costs per hour (+2.3%) than the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X.
For the additional cost, the Airbus H125 provides a higher ‘tank-full’ range than the Bell 505, and, though the two models share the same cabin volume, the H125 model provides a greater available payload with full fuel. The greater cabin width of the H125 allows for extra seating within its typical cabin configuration.
We have also explored popular usage of each model and discovered that ‘Business’ and ‘Charter’ rank as the top-two specific missions for each. Essentially, we can see two very viable models within the market for operators with slightly different mission requirements. The Bell 505 provides a competitive solution for operators needing to transport fewer passengers over marginally shorter ranges than those who would need the Airbus H125.
Operators should weigh up their mission requirements precisely when picking which option is the best for them, establishing exactly where their the need for additional capability might come.
Within the preceding paragraphs we have touched upon several of the attributes that helicopter operators value. However, there are other qualities that might factor in a buying decision too.
The Airbus H125 and the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X continue to be popular today, and current and prospective operators in the market should find the preceding comparison useful. Our expectations are that both models will continue to do well in the new and used helicopter market for the near-term future.
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