- 01 Jan 2020
- Mike Chase
- Helicopter Comparisons
In this month’s Helicopter Comparison, Mike Chase provides information on three popular single turbine helicopters including the Leonardo AW119 Kx, Bell 407 GXi and Airbus H125. What are the pros and cons of each?
How do the Leonardo AW119 Kx, Bell 407 GXi and Airbus H125 compare within the market? Over the following paragraphs, we’ll consider several productivity parameters (including payload, range, speed and cabin size), and their current market values.
Leonardo AW119 Kx: The AW119 Kx is a single-engine turbine helicopter originally designed and developed by AgustaWestland. It is used for performing a variety of missions such as emergency medical services (EMS) transport, offshore transport, VIP or corporate transport, law enforcement, fire-fighting, and government duties.
In production since 2012, the AW119 Kx succeeded the AW119 Ke (Koala Enhanced) model. The Kx version offers a Garmin G1000H avionics suite, helping improve situational awareness, reduce pilot workload, and increase safety.
Bell 407 GXi: The Bell 407 GXi is outfitted with the new Rolls-Royce 250-C47E/4 dual-channel FADEC turbine engine delivering exceptional hot and high performance, full automatic relight, and the ability to cruise at 133kts.
Additional options for the Bell 407 GXi include the Garmin Flight Stream 510 that allows pilots to upload flight plans from smart devices, and Garmin Surface Watch that provides runway identification and alerting technology.
Airbus H125 (formally the Eurocopter AS350B-3e): The H125 draws its roots from the Eurocopter AS-350B-3, produced between 1998 and 2012. The Eurocopter AS-350B-3e model (built between 2012 and 2015) followed, before in 2016 Airbus renamed it the Airbus H125.
Currently manufactured in Airbus Helicopters' plant at Golden Triangle Airport, the Airbus H125 features a new dual-channel FADEC-equipped Turbomeca Arriel 2D engine, and a dual LCD-screen Vehicle and Engine Multi-function Display (VEMD).
A total 912 Airbus H125s were in operation at the time of writing. By comparison 81 Leonardo AW119 Kx and 63 Bell 407 GXi helicopters were in operation worldwide. By continent, Europe holds the largest Airbus H125 fleet percentage (33%), followed by North America (32%) and Asia (21%), accounting for a combined total of 86% (per JETNET). For the Leonardo AW119 Kx (13%) and Bell 407 GXi (3%), Europe does not capture a particularly large market share.
Payload & Range
The data contained in Table A is sourced from each of the OEMs, JETNET and from B&CA magazine. As we have mentioned previously, a potential operator should focus on payload capability as a key factor. The Leonardo AW119 Kx ‘Available Payload with Maximum Fuel’ (1,580lbs) is more than that offered by either the Bell 407GXi (1,455lbs) or the Airbus H125 (987lbs).
TABLE A: Leonardo AW119 Kx vs Bell 407 GXi vs Airbus H125 Payload Comparison
According to the Business Jet Traveler Summer 2020 Aircraft Buyers’ Guide, the Leonardo AW119 Kx cabin volume measures 121 cubic feet. By comparison, the Bell 407 GXi and Airbus H125 have less cabin volume (84cu.ft and 61cu.ft, respectively).
Chart A, courtesy of UPCAST JETBOOK, offers a cabin cross-section view and shows the cabin height of the three helicopters to be approximately 4.2ft. They all differ in width, however. The H125 offers the greatest width (5.41ft) compared to the AW119 Kx (5.3ft) and the Bell 407 GXi (4.8ft). The AW119 Kx provides the longer cabin at 6.89ft, meanwhile.
CHART A: Leonardo AW119 Kx vs Bell 407 GXi vs Airbus H125 Cabin Comparison
Typical executive seating configuration (excluding one crew member) for the AW119 Kx and the Bell 407 GXi is five, compared to four executive seats on the Airbus H125.
The Airbus H125 provides 35cu.ft of external luggage space, but none internally, while the Bell 407 GXi has 20cu.ft of external baggage space and 3cu.ft internally. The Leonardo AW119 Kx provides the most room for luggage (34cu.ft externally and 10cu.ft internally).
Using the Leonardo S.p.A. manufacturing plant in Milan, Italy as the origin point, Chart B shows the AW119 Kx helicopter provides greater range (448nm) than the Bell 407 GXi (332nm) and the Airbus H125 (300nm). The depicted range for each aircraft is with executive seats full.
CHART B: Leonardo AW119 Kx vs Bell 407 GXi vs Airbus H125 Range Comparison
Interestingly, the Certificated Ceiling for our three study helicopters differs, with 23,000ft for the Airbus H125; 20,000ft for the Bell 407 GXi; and 15,000ft for the Leonardo AW119 Kx.
The Leonardo AW119 Kx is powered by one Pratt & Whitney of Canada PT6B-37A engine with a 900shp transmission rating. (The transmission rating is a limiting factor in the total rated and usable engine power output.)
By comparison, the Bell 407GXi is powered by one Rolls Royce 250-C47E/4 engine with 650shp transmission rating, and the Airbus H125 is powered by a single Turbomeca Arriel 2D with 802shp transmission rating.
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, Engine Overhaul, and Miscellaneous Trip Expense.
CHART C: Leonardo AW119 Kx vs Bell 407 GXi vs Airbus H125 Operating Cost Comparison
These costs do not represent a direct source into every flight department and their trip support expenses. Therefore, for comparative purposes the costs presented are the relative differences, not the actual differences since these may vary from flight department to flight department actual operations.
The Total Variable Cost for the Leonardo AW119 Kx is $885 per hour, 42% more than the Bell 407 GXi and Airbus H125 (both $625 per hour).
Table B contains the Manufacturer’s Base Price from 2020 from HeliValue$ for each helicopter. The average speed, cabin volume and range values are from the OEMs and/or the Business Jet Traveler Summer 2020 Aircraft Buyers’ Guide, while the number of helicopters in-operation and the percentage ‘For Sale’ are as reported by JETNET.
TABLE B: Leonardo AW119 Kx vs Bell 407 GXi vs Airbus H125 Market Comparison
As of this writing, the Leonardo AW119Kx had 2.5% of its fleet for sale, and the Airbus H125 had 2.6% of its fleet on the pre-owned market. The Bell 407 GXi has no used helicopters for sale.
The average number of new/used transactions (sold) per month for the Leonardo AW119 Kx is one unit per month, while the Bell 407 GXi averages four new units per month. The Airbus H125 averages nine new and used units sold monthly.
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 can 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 C).
TABLE C: MACRS Tax Schedule for Part 91 and Part 135 Aircraft
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 D depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a Leonardo AW119 Kx helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a 2020 base price of $3.635m, per HeliValue$.
TABLE D: Leonardo AW119 Kx MACRS Tax Schedule
Table E depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a Bell 206 GXi helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a 2020 base price of $3.315m, per HeliValue$.
TABLE E: Bell 407 GXi MACRS Tax Schedule
Table F depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2020- year model Airbus H125 helicopter in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods, assuming a 2020 base price of $3.324m, per HeliValue$.
TABLE F: Airbus H125 MACRS Tax Schedule
Asking Prices & Quantity
The current used helicopter market for the AW119 Kx displayed three units available for sale, with one displaying an asking price of $3.495m. By comparison, the Airbus H125 shows a total of 23 helicopters ‘For Sale’ with 12 displaying asking prices ranging between $1.75m and $3.2m. As mentioned previously, however, there were no Bell 407 GXi helicopters on the used helicopter market (per JETNET records) at the time of writing.
While each serial number is unique, the Airframe (AFTT) hours and age/condition will cause great variations in price. Of course, the final negotiated price remains to be decided between the seller and buyer before the sale of an aircraft is completed.
The points in Chart D are centered on the same helicopters. Pricing used in the vertical axis is as published by HeliValue$. 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 D: Leonardo AW119 Kx vs Bell 407 GXi vs Airbus H125 Productivity Comparison
After consideration of the Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size we can conclude that the Leonardo AW119 Kx displays a high level of productivity compared to the comparative field, with greater ‘Payload with Full Fuel’ capability, longer range and more cabin volume. However, the variable hourly operating cost and price are greater.
The Airbus H125 shows a marginally higher price ($9k) based on its 2020 base price than the Bell 407 GXi, while their variable hourly operating costs are the same.
The Airbus H125 currently averages nine units sold per month (new and used), and is a popular model on the helicopter sales market today with over 900 helicopters in operation worldwide. We see plenty of reason for each of our comparative helicopters to enjoy ongoing market success.
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. When selecting which option is best for them, operators should weigh up their mission requirements precisely.