- 01 Mar 2021
- Mike Chase
- Helicopter Comparison
In this month’s helicopter comparison, Mike Chase provides information on two popular multi-turbine helicopters. How will the Leonardo AW139 and the Airbus H155 compare?Back to Articles
Over the following paragraphs, we’ll analyse the performance of the heavy class Leonardo AW139 (14,110lbs MTOW) and the medium class Airbus H155 (10,846lbs MTOW) helicopters to see how they compare within the market, and assess where the crossover in customer need may lie.
We’ll also consider productivity parameters (payload, range, speed and cabin size), current market values, and see if they reveal specific niches within the market, and to whom each turbine helicopter is ideally suited.
The Leonardo AW139 (formerly the AB139) resulted from a partnership between Bell Helicopter and AgustaWestland. BellAgusta Aerospace Company developed the AB139 as a multi-role helicopter. After Bell sold its 25% stake in the program to AgustaWestland, the model was subsequently renamed the AW139.
Two design variants were produced, including the ‘Short Nose’ version between 2001 and 2006, and the ‘Long Nose’ version (s/n 31200 onwards) between 2007 and present. The ‘Long Nose’ AW139 has a fuselage extension to allow for the installation of additional system equipment such as FLIR (Forward-Looking infrared), searchlights, and additional radios.
In 2019 the 1,000th AW139 was delivered, and today, it continues to be built under the Leonardo Helicopters brand after AgustaWestland was merged into Leonardo.
Designed with a five-bladed, fully articulated main rotor and a four-bladed articulated tail rotor, the AW139 is fitted with retractable tricycle landing gear. Flown by a crew of two pilots, the model can seat up to 15 passengers, and is powered by two FADEC-controlled Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C turboshafts.
The Airbus H155 (formerly the EC-155B1) was a development of the EC-155B that Eurocopter had introduced with the intention of bringing 30% more cabin volume, and 130% more baggage space compared to previous Dauphin-series models.
The EC-155B1 model incorporated more powerful Turbomeca Arriel 2C2 engines than EC-155B, new engine cowlings, and a new hydraulic cooling system. After Eurocopter was renamed Airbus Helicopters in 2014, the EC-155B1 was rebranded as the Airbus H155 the following year.
As a long-range, medium-lift passenger transport helicopter, the H155 is capable of carrying up to 13 passengers and two crew (though in VIP configuration it typically caries six passengers).
The Payload data contained in Table A is sourced from each of the OEMs and Helivalue$. Potential operators should focus on payload capability as a key factor – and particularly the available payload when the aircraft is fully fueled.
TABLE A: Leonardo AW139 vs Airbus H155 Payload Comparison
As depicted, the Leonardo AW139 has a higher ‘Available Payload with Maximum Fuel’ capacity, at 2,445lbs, than the Airbus H155 (2,248lbs).
Chart A, courtesy of UPCAST JETBOOK, offers a cabin cross-section comparison, and shows that the Leonardo AW139 is larger with more height (4.7ft vs 4.39ft) and width (7.2ft vs 6.72ft) than the Airbus H155.
CHART A: Leonardo AW139 vs Airbus H155 Cabin Comparison
Not depicted in the chart, the Leonardo AW139 also has a longer cabin at 8.85ft (versus 8.37ft). According to Conklin & de Decker, the Leonardo AW139 helicopter’s cabin volume measures 282cu.ft, while the cabin volume of the Airbus H155 is 225cu.ft. In terms of baggage space, the Leonardo AW139 provides 120cu.ft of external baggage volume (none internally), while the Airbus H155 has 88cu.ft.
The typical Executive configuration for Airbus H155 is one crew and six passenger seats, whereas the Leonardo AW139 has two crew and five executive passenger seats.
Seats-Full Range Comparison
The Leonardo AW139 (620nm) and the Airbus H155 (418nm) helicopters are represented with their respective ‘seats-full’ range circles originating from Milan – Malpensa, Italy, in Chart B.
CHART B: Leonardo AW139 vs Airbus H155 Range Comparison
Note: For helicopters, ‘seats-full’ range represents the maximum IFR range of the helicopter at average cruise speed, with all passenger seats occupied. These do not factor winds aloft, or any other weather-related factors.
The Leonardo AW139 is powered by two PT6C-67C engines producing 1,100shp. The Airbus H155 is powered by two Turbomeca Arriel 2C2 engines with 1,456shp transmission rating. (The transmission rating is a limiting factor in the total rated and usable engine power output.)
Helicopter Usage Comparison
Chart C shows the usage of the two helicopters broken into various groups. The largest usage groups for the Leonardo AW139 are ‘Military’ and ‘Charter’ (237 and 229 units, respectively). As depicted, however, while ‘Charter’ (52 units) accounts for a significant percentage of the Airbus H155 fleet, a higher percentage of business users favor the H155 (24%) than for the AW139 (14%).
CHART C: Leonardo AW139 vs Airbus H155 Mission Demographics
Cost per Mile Comparison
Chart D details the ‘Cost per Mile’ of our comparative field, factoring direct costs. The Leonardo AW139 has the higher cost per mile at $9.07 per nautical mile. The Airbus H155 costs $7.18 to operate, per mile. This is a difference of 25.5% in favor of the Airbus H155.
CHART D: Leonardo AW139 vs Airbus H155 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, Engine Overhaul, and Miscellaneous Trip Expense.
The Total Variable Cost for the Airbus H155 computes at $740 per hour, which is $195 – or 20.9% - less than the Leonardo AW139 ($935 per hour), per JETNET.
CHART E: Leonardo AW139 vs Airbus H155 Variable Hourly Cost Comparison
Table B contains the price range from JETNET for each model, including the cost of a new 2021-model. The number of helicopters in-operation, and the percentage ‘For Sale’ are also from JETNET, while the average speed, cabin volume and range values are from B&CA.
TABLE B: Leonardo AW139 vs Airbus H155 Market Comparison
As shown, the Leonardo AW139 had 2.9% of its fleet listed ‘For Sale’ on the pre-owned turbine helicopter market at the time of writing. By comparison, 7.4% of the AirbusH155 fleet was ‘For Sale’. The average number of new/pre-owned transactions (sold) per month for the Leonardo AW139 was seven, compared to one for the Airbus H155.
Used Asking Prices & Quantity
As of this writing, the used market for the Leonardo AW139 showed 31 aircraft ‘For Sale’, with five displaying asking prices that ranged between $5.5m to $9.682m. By comparison, there were 11 Airbus H155 helicopters ‘For Sale’. Again, five displayed asking prices between $2.149m to $4.750m.
While each serial number is unique, the time on the airframe (AFTT) and age/condition will cause great variation in price between one aircraft and another. Of course, the final negotiated price remains to be decided between the seller and buyer.
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 favourable Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) where depreciation is based on a straight-line method. This means 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 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 C depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2021 model Leonardo AW139 helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a 2021 market price of $9.652m (per JETNET).
TABLE C: Leonardo AW139 Sample MACRS Depreciation Schedule
Table D, meanwhile, depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2021 model Airbus H155 helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a 2021 market price of $10.0m (per JETNET)
TABLE D:Airbus H155 Sample MACRS Depreciation Schedule
The points in Chart F are centered on the same helicopters. Pricing used in the vertical axis is as published in JETNET, and depicts the range of values for the model on the new and used market. 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:
Others may choose different parameters, but serious helicopter buyers are usually impressed with Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size.
CHART F: Leonardo AW139 vs Airbus H155 Productivity Comparison
After consideration of the Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size, the Leonardo AW139 is clearly the more productive model. This is unsurprising since it occupies the heavy-category of the helicopter market. It provides greater ‘Payload with Full Fuel’ capability, a longer range, and a larger cabin volume.
Gains in these performance parameters are what operators can expect when they step into a larger machine. What is interesting is that the AW139 also has a lower 2021 market price than the Airbus H155, according to JETNET.
Nevertheless, operators whose mission requirements fall within the parameters offered by the H155 should not automatically dismiss it as an option. The Airbus H155 has over 20% lower variable and ‘per nautical mile’ operating costs, which can equate to a substantial cost saving over the course of a few years’ operations. It also offers a slightly higher long-range cruise speed.
It is important to remember that other factors could feature in a buyer’s analysis that could swing the result in favor of one model over the other, including flight ceiling.
Essentially, operators should weigh up all of their mission requirements precisely, preferably with the help of a knowledgeable industry professional, when picking whether the Leonardo AW139 or Airbus H155 is the best for them.
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