- 03 Aug 2020
- Mike Chase
- Helicopter Comparisons
In this month’s helicopter comparison, Mike Chase provides information on the popular mid-size multi-turbine helicopters. How will the Airbus H145 compare with the Sikorsky S-76D and Leonardo AW169?
Over the following paragraphs, we’ll analyse the performance of the Airbus H145, the Sikorsky S-76D, and the Leonardo AW169 helicopters to see how they compare within the market.
We’ll also consider productivity parameters (payload, range, speed and cabin size), and current market values, and see if they reveal specific niches within the market each model is designed to appeal to.
The Airbus H145 started operations in 2014 as the EC145T2. In 2015, the aircraft was rebranded as the H145 by Airbus Helicopters.
A more powerful evolution of the EC145, the H145 features two dual-channel FADEC-equipped Turbomeca Arriel 2E engines, a Fenestron tail rotor, upgraded main and tail rotor gearboxes, and a modern avionics suite with a 4-axis autopilot and large glass cockpit displays. The Airbus H145 continues to be a ‘best-seller’.
Its appeal was further enhanced after the arrival of the new -D3 variant with its five-bladed main rotor. With a flight ceiling of 20,000ft, the Airbus H145 takes operators higher than many of its competitors, and an H145 has even landed on top of the Andes in South America.
As of this writing, there were 303 Airbus H145 helicopters in operation worldwide. An additional 21 were with the manufacturer. None had been retired from a total 324 units built. Europe is home to the largest H145 fleet percentage (60%), followed by Asia (22%) and North America (11%).
Airbus H145 models offered on the preowned market tend not to hang around for long, with the average time on the market being just 98 days before selling (at the time of writing), per JETNET data. Prospective buyers based within ADS-B Out-mandated regions should be aware, however, that 21% of the H145 fleet still doesn't comply with ADS-B Out requirements.
The Sikorsky S-76D is a mid-size, multi-engine utility helicopter. Its main and tail rotors incorporate four blades each, and it has a retractable landing gear. Development of the original S-76 model began back in the 1970s, and the aircraft has been upgraded several times since it first hit the market.
In the 1990s, the model became the first to circumnavigate the world from East to West. The most recent upgrade – the S-76D model – is powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210S turboshafts, and features Thales Topdeck avionics in the cockpit.
Seating up to ten, but typically configured for eight, the mid-size multi-turbine Leonardo AW169 shares several characteristics with its larger AW139 and AW189 stable-mates, and has been in production since 2015 when it became the first all-new aircraft in its weight category for more than three decades.
Powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW210A FADEC turboshaft engines, and utilizing a Collins Aerospace glass flight deck, it serves across multiple mission areas around the world, including border patrol, government transport, corporate/VVIP and medivac.
The 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.
The Airbus H145 has a slightly higher ‘Available Payload with Maximum Fuel’ capacity (2,600lbs) than the Sikorsky S-76D (2,559lbs) and the Leonardo AW169 (1,957lbs).
TABLE A: Airbus H145 vs Sikorsky S-76D vs Leonardo AW169 Payload Comparison
When Airbus introduced a five-blade rotor to the H145 model, replacing a four-blade rotor, it increased the useful payload from 3,561lbs to 4,200lbs (thus, also increasing the available payload with maximum fuel).
According to Conklin & de Decker, the Airbus H145 cabin volume measures 143cu.ft. The Sikorsky S-76D has more cabin volume (205cu.ft.), as does the Leonardo AW169 (223cu.ft.).
Chart A, courtesy of UPCAST JETBOOK, offers a cabin cross-section comparison, and shows that the Airbus H145 has the least height (4.2ft) and width (5.56ft) of the competition. The Sikorsky S-76D has the greatest height (4.5ft), and the Leonardo AW169 has the most width (6.66ft).
CHART A: Airbus H145 vs Sikorsky S-76D vs Leonardo AW169 Cabin Comparison
In terms of baggage space, the Airbus H145 has 47cu.ft. of internal and no external baggage space, which is more than the Sikorsky S-76D offers (38cu.ft. externally and none internally). However, the Leonardo AW169, with 120cu.ft. internal baggage volume (none externally) offers the most baggage space of this field.
The typical VVIP configuration for Airbus H145 and Leonardo AW169 is for eight executive passenger seats, compared to ten on the Sikorsky S-76D (per Sikorsky). However, the Leonardo AW169 requires one crew member compared to two for the other competitors.
Seats-Full Range Comparison
The Airbus H145 (351nm), the Sikorsky S-76D (441nm), and the Leonardo AW169 (415nm) helicopters are represented with their respective ‘seats-full’ range circles emanating from Marseille, France, in Chart B.
CHART B: Airbus H145 vs Sikorsky S-76D vs Leonardo AW169 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 Airbus H145 is powered by two Turbomeca Arriel 2E engines with 575shp transmission rating. The transmission rating is a limiting factor in the total rated and usable engine power output. Meanwhile, both the Sikorsky S-76D (two PW210S, with 803shp) and the Leonardo AW169 (two PW210A, with 825shp) are powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada turbine engines.
Helicopter Usage Comparison
Chart C shows the usage of all three helicopters broken into four groupings, including Business, Charter, Medical, and ‘Other’ – a variety of mission types combined (but mostly represented by ‘Governments’ and ‘Off-shore’).
CHART C: Airbus H145 vs Sikorsky S-76D vs Leonardo AW169 Usage Comparison
The largest usage group for these three helicopters is ‘Medical’, with the Airbus H145 (105) followed by the Sikorsky S-76D (2) and the Leonardo AW169 (18). The second largest usage group is ‘Charter’ with the H145 (44), S-76D (13), and AW169 (29). The third biggest group is ‘Business’ with the H145 (29), S-76D (24), and AW169 (24).
Cost per Mile Comparison
Chart D details the ‘Cost per Mile’ of our comparative field, factoring direct costs, and with all aircraft flying a 200nm mission. The Sikorsky S-76D has the highest cost per mile at $8.29, which is 41% more than the Airbus H145 ($5.90 per nautical mile). The Leonardo AW169 ($7.53) is also more expensive to operate per nautical mile than the H145.
CHART D: Airbus H145 vs Sikorsky S-76D vs Leonardo AW169 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.
CHART E: Airbus H145 vs Sikorsky S-76D vs Leonardo AW169 Variable Cost Comparison
The Total Variable Cost for the Airbus H145 computes at $498 per hour, which is $523 less than the Leonardo AW169 ($1,021 per hour), and just over $200 less than the Sikorsky S-76D ($710) as sourced from JETNET.
There is a total of 472 helicopters in operation worldwide today from these three comparative models – Airbus has sold more than 300 H145s, holding 65% of the market. Table B contains the new 2021 prices from HeliValue$ for each model. The average speed, cabin volume and range values are from the respective OEM, while the number of helicopters in-operation and percentage
TABLE B: Airbus H145 vs Sikorsky S-76D vs Leonardo AW169 Market Comparison
‘For Sale’ are as reported by JETNET. As depicted, at the time of writing only one Airbus H145 was listed ‘For Sale’, representing just 0.33% of the fleet. By comparison, 6.94% of the Sikorsky S-76D, and 2.11% of the Leonardo AW169 fleets were ‘For Sale’.
The average number of new/pre-owned transactions (sold) per month for the Airbus H145 was four, comparing with less than one for the Sikorsky S-76D, and one for the Leonardo AW169.
Used Asking Prices & Quantity
As mentioned, the current used market for the Airbus H145 shows one helicopter ‘For Sale’ with an asking price of $9.548m. There were also five pre-owned Sikorsky S-76Ds ‘For Sale’ – none of which had published asking prices – and two Leonardo AW169s ‘For Sale’, both of which invited inquiries from interested buyers.
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 before the sale of a helicopter 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 favourable 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 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 Airbus H145 helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a new 2021 retail price of $9.228m, per HeliValue$.
TABLE C: Airbus H145 Sample MACRS Tax Schedule
Table D depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2021 model Sikorsky S-76D helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a new 2021 retail price of $7.0m, per HeliValue$.
TABLE D: Sikorsky S-76D Sample MACRS Tax Schedule
Table E depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2021 model Leonardo AW169 helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a new 2021 retail price of $9.680m, per HeliValue$.
TABLE E: Leonardo AW169 Sample MACRS Tax Schedule
The points in Chart F are centered on the same helicopters. Pricing used in the vertical axis is as published in HeliValue$ (for the model year 2021). 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.
After consideration of the Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size, the Leonardo AW169 is the most productive, even with a higher new purchase price than the Sikorsky S-76D and Airbus H145.
CHART F: Airbus H145 vs Sikorsky S-76D vs Leonardo AW169 Productivity Comparison
The Airbus H145 offers greater ‘Payload with Full Fuel’ capability than the rest of the field, while the Leonardo AW169 shows the largest cabin volume. However, the Sikorsky S-76D has the longest range of the three competitors. The S-76D also has the lowest new purchase price and faster average cruise speed.
Although it comes lower on the productivity chart, the Airbus H145 has the lowest operating costs (variable and per nautical mile) by a large margin.
It is important to remember that other factors could feature in a buyer’s analysis that could swing the result in favor of any of these three helicopters. For example, as we mentioned at the start of this article, the Airbus H145 has a 20,000ft flight ceiling, which will undoubtedly prove very attractive to some operators who need it.
Our Helicopter Comparison shows that the best helicopter depends on what is best for the operator’s mission requirement. Is payload capability important? Or comfort (cabin volume)? Or range? The answer points towards a different helicopter in our field each time. Essentially, operators should weigh up their mission requirements precisely when picking which option is the best for them.
Operators should find the preceding comparison useful. Our expectations are that these three helicopters will continue to do well on the new/used helicopter market for the foreseeable future.
Of course, if any helicopter is not outfitted with ADS-B Out, it will need to be upgraded before it can be operated in the US currently, or in Europe after June 7, 2023.
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