Helicopter Comparison: Airbus H125 versus Bell 206L-4
In this month’s Aircraft Comparative Analysis, Mike Chase provides information on a pair of popular single-turbine light helicopters. What are the pros and cons of the Airbus H125 versus the Bell 206L-4? Find out here...
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In this month’s Aircraft Comparative Analysis, Mike Chase provides information on a pair of popular single-turbine light helicopters for the purpose of valuing the Airbus H125.
Over the following paragraphs, we’ll analyse the performance of the Airbus H125 and Bell’s 206L-4 helicopter to see how they compare within the market. We’ll consider productivity parameters (payload, range, speed and cabin size), and give consideration to market values.
The Airbus H125 traces its roots to the Eurocopter AS-350B-3 which was in production from 1998 until 2012. Eurocopter introduced the Eurocopter AS-350B-3e model from 2013, then in 2016 Airbus renamed the AS-350B-3e the Airbus H125.
The Airbus H125 continues to be produced at Airbus Helicopters' plant at Golden Triangle Airport in Lowndes County near Columbus, Mississippi, and the aircraft features a new dual-channel FADEC-equipped Turbomeca Arriel 2D powerplant and a dual LCD-screen Vehicle and Engine Multi-Function Display (VEMD).
Video of the AS350B-3e (renamed the H125 in 2016) which made Mexican aviation history in 2014
As of this analysis, 704 Airbus H125 helicopters are operational worldwide, while a further 27 were in production. An additional 27 aircraft had been retired, giving a total of 758 Airbus H125s built. The fleet percentage ‘For Sale’ at the time of writing was 2.4%, and the average time on the market before a sale stood at 324 days, according to JETNET.
By continent, North America was home to the largest fleet percentage (33%) of Airbus H125s, followed by Europe (29%) and Asia (23%) to give a combined total of 85% of the worldwide fleet. Table A offers a more comprehensive break-down of the top ten operator countries.
TABLE A - Top 10 List of Airbus H125 Operator Countries
Of the 167 Airbus H125 helicopters currently based in the US, 67 (40%) have ADS-B Out installed, leaving 60% of the fleet yet to comply by January 1, 2020.
Payload & Range Comparison
The data contained in Table B is sourced from Conklin & de Decker. As we have mentioned previously, a potential operator should focus on payload capability as a key factor. The Airbus H125 ‘Available Payload with Maximum Fuel’ (987lbs) is more than that offered by the Bell 206L-4 (737lbs).
TABLE B - Airbus H125 vs Bell 206L-4 Payload & Range Comparisons
Cabin and Sections
According to Conklin & de Decker, the Airbus H125 cabin volume measures 61 cubic feet. The Bell 206L-4 has more cabin volume (73 cubic feet). Chart A, courtesy of UPCAST JETBOOK, offers a cabin cross-section comparison, showing the Airbus H125 has more width (5.41 ft. vs 3.9 ft.) and slightly more height (4.26 ft. vs 4.2 ft.) than the Bell 206L-4 cabin. Also, the cabin length of the Airbus H125 is longer (6.56 ft. vs 5 ft.).
CHART A - Airbus H125 vs Bell 206L-4 Cabin Cross-Section Comparison
So where does the Bell model get its cabin volume advantage from? Conklin & de Decker measures its cabin volumes based on the full shape, and in this case the more curved windshield of the Airbus model accounts for the difference.
Meanwhile, the Airbus H125 has 35 cubic feet of external and no internal baggage space, while the Bell 206L-4 has 20 cubic feet of external baggage space and 2 cubic feet of internal baggage space.
The typical seating configuration for Airbus H125 offers one less passenger seat at four seats with one crew member, while the Bell 206L-4 offers five passenger seats with one crew member.
Airbus H125 Cabin Layout
As depicted by Chart B using Golden Triangle Regional Airport in Mississippi as the origin point, the Airbus H125 helicopter with Seats Full range of 300nm is greater than that of the Bell 206L-4 (253nm), according Conklin & de Decker data.
CHART B - Airbus H125 vs Bell 206L-4 Range Comparison
As mentioned, the Airbus H125 is powered by one Turbomeca Arriel 2D turbine engine that offers the higher power rating value of 802shp transmission rating compared with the Bell 206L-4’s single Rolls-Royce 250-C30P turbine engine with 600shp.
Total Variable Cost
The ‘Total Variable Cost’ illustrated in Chart C 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 $614 per hour, which is $26 (4.4%) higher than the Bell 206L-4 at $588 per hour.
CHART C - Airbus H125 vs Bell 206L-4 Variable Cost Comparison
Table C contains the 2018 ‘New’ prices from the Vref Price Guide for each helicopter. The average speed, cabin volume and maximum payload values are from Conklin & de Decker, while the number of helicopters in-operation and percentage ‘For Sale’ are as reported by JETNET.
TABLE C - Airbus H125 vs Bell 206L-4 Aircraft Comparison
As mentioned, the Airbus H125 has 2.4% of its fleet currently ‘For Sale’ and the Bell 206L-4 has 9.4% ‘For Sale’. Over the past 12 months, the average number of New/Used monthly transactions for the Airbus H125 is 11 units per month compared to the Bell 206L-4 with two units sold per month.
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 (see Table D).
TABLE D - Part 91 and Part 135 MACRS Schedule
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 are 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 generally 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, that may have an impact on the allowable depreciation deduction available in a given year.
Table E depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2018-year model Airbus H125 helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a new 2018 retail price of $3.05m, per the Vref Price guide.
TABLE E - MACRS Depreciation Schedule For 2018 Model Airbus H125
Asking Prices & Quantity
The current used helicopter market for the Airbus H125 shows a total of 17 helicopters ‘For Sale’ with 13 displaying an asking price ranging from $1.511m to $3.1m. We also reviewed the 40 used Bell 206L-4 helicopters ‘For Sale’, which rendered 24 asking prices ranging between $720k 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 decided between the seller and buyer before the sale of an aircraft is completed.
The points in Chart D are centered on the same helicopters. Pricing used in the vertical axis is as published in the Vref Pricing Guide for the model year 2018. The productivity index requires further discussion in that the factors used can be somewhat arbitrary. Productivity can be defined (and it is here) as the multiple of three factors:
Seats Full Range with available fuel;
The Long Range cruise speed flown to achieve that range;
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.
CHART D - Airbus H125 vs Bell 206L-4 Productivity Comparison
The Airbus H125 shows a higher new retail price than the Bell 206L-4, but greater productivity. Specifically, the Airbus H125 has greater ‘Payload with Full Fuel’ capability, greater range and higher cruise speed. Meanwhile, the Bell 206L-4 offers a larger cabin volume, lower variable operating cost and an extra passenger seat.
The Airbus H125 averages 11 units sold per month and is still a popular model on the helicopter sales market today. Operators should weigh up their mission requirements precisely when picking which option is the best for them.
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 continues to be popular today. Those operators in the market should find the preceding comparison useful. Our expectations are that the Airbus H125 will continue to do well on the new/used helicopter market for the foreseeable future. Of course, if a US-operated Airbus H125 helicopter is not outfitted with ADS-B Out it cannot be placed in operation after December 31, 2019, as mandated by the FAA.