What are the key considerations when buying a corporate helicopter? Aircraft broker Michael Roberts offers insights and tips to help ensure the rotorcraft you buy is the best fit for your mission needs…
The corporate helicopter market could certainly be larger than it currently is. There are companies and individuals whose time and travel needs could be met by helicopters, but who are not currently utilizing rotorcraft. Those choosing the right corporate helicopter, however, enjoy a truly competitive advantage and enhanced travel safety.
The best helicopter is ultimately the one which you will use. It may sound overly simple, but this idea will ultimately assist those seeking to buy a helicopter in their selection of the right make and model, down to the selection of which serial number to purchase.
In many cases, there will be several different models which could work almost equally well for corporate missions, and in these cases other factors come in to the selection process.
The first question is ‘mission suitability’. To determine the mission suitability of a model, buyers need to create a list of role-suitable helicopter models they’re considering.
For example, are you an organization which doesn’t allow its executives to travel in single-engine aircraft? Does the corporation have policies ruling out operations over certain areas or restricting night operations? Irrespective of the merits of many turbine helicopters, if company policy prohibits single-engine aircraft or certain types of operations, your selection of models will be reduced to twin-engine helicopters, or those performing within the confines of that policy.
After determining which of the remaining models meet the published range and payload you require, it’s worth asking pilots rated in the models you’re considering to run flight plans over an anticipated route you plan to fly on a typically hot summer’s day, with the typical number of passengers you would anticipate transporting. Pay attention to the time of flight and fuel used as part of your consideration.
It pays to repeat this process as many times as necessary to confirm that the helicopter make/model is suitable for your mission need. Having visited helicopter operators in over 40 countries, you’d be surprised at the number of times I’ve heard of somebody buying something that ‘can't take off’.
Parts, Mechanics and Pilot Availability
The next major factor in choosing your model is the availability of parts, rated mechanics and the pilots you plan to use.
Do not assume a helicopter does or doesn’t have parts available based on model year alone. All the major OEMs work diligently to have worldwide availability of parts, but things do happen, and supplier issues or a sudden demand for a part can result in a (mostly temporary) shortage. The best way to obtain this kind of data is to visit the maintenance facility you’re consider using.
While you’re there, ask if they are consistently able to complete work on time, keeping down-time to a minimum. After all, when things go wrong it is not unheard of for a helicopter to be grounded for a six-month period. Be diligent and current in your research.
While it is tempting to simply list and recommend certain models, the models that work best for your needs absolutely depend on the location of the intended base of your operations.
Do you have pilot(s) on staff who are already trained in the model you’re considering? Or do you intend to send them to flight school? Are you planning to use local contract pilots on an as-needed basis? You will need to know who’s going to fly your machine.
Many clients have long term professional pilots on their staff whose requirements are a critical part of their selection process.
What’s Your Budget?
Narrowing down the right tool for the job will reveal the price it will take to acquire one of the helicopters on your list. While many people begin with a price range and select helicopters that fit that range, it’s worth doing things the other way around first to see if the process reveals another model(s).
Remember, the best helicopter is the one that you will use. A bargain-basement machine that’s stuck in the hangar for any reason is no bargain at all!
Don't forget the personal and non-financial considerations. Comfort and appearance are driving factors in many areas of business and should not be overlooked here. If you find the right machine with the wrong colors, ask about seat cover changes, stripes or paint jobs as a part of your overall consideration.
On the flip side, don't buy the wrong helicopter because it looks great… Awesome-looking ‘hangar queens’ will do nothing to meet your mission need if they don’t fit the bill, regardless of how impressive they look in the hangar.
Communication is Key…
Communicate to your team, pilot, broker and potential service providers special considerations which may have an impact on your choice. For example:
- Will the helicopter be shipped or flown to another region or country?
- What are the seasonal changes like in the places you plan to operate?
- Will it be based on a yacht, at a private residence, private airfield, at a standard FBO, or at a private hangar?
- Do you need to rent or charter?
- Will the helicopter fly only as corporate transportation, or for other uses too?
- With that in mind, what are the possibilities that could open-up?
- Will you show more sites to potential business partners?
- Will you seek to impress guests with aerial tours of your city?
- Will you spend more time with your family?
- Will you make more frequent visits to a client or facility?
- Will your overall use of fixed-wing aircraft reduce as a result of your newly purchased helicopter?
Many of the answers to these questions about growing need will help you select the corporate helicopter that is right, not only for today but for the next several years.
Next time, we’ll discuss the selection of a specific helicopter serial number, the inspection and closing process. Stay tuned…
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