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VVIP Helicopters: Are They on the Rise?

The factors contributing to the latest VVIP market trends

Terry Spruce   |   23rd March 2017
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Terry Spruce Terry Spruce

Terry Spruce began as a freelance aviation journalist in 2005, after working for a well known...
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Hot on the heels of HAI Heli-Expo, Terry Spruce poses questions to helicopter industry experts about the current market for VVIP helicopters…

Offering their views and observations on the market trends for VVIP helicopters were Charlotte Pedersen, CEO of Luxaviation Helicopters; Simon Mitchell, Accountable Manager of Starspeed; and Jakub Hoda, Managing Director, Europe & Russia of Bell Helicopter.

Is the VVIP helicopter market showing signs of an upturn? If so, why is that?

CP: I have not seen any signs of this market being in a downturn… All the market research we have performed as well as the feedback we have had from our business jet companies and clients who also own or regularly charter helicopters have shown a steadily rising tendency, especially in the VVIP market.

This also goes hand-in-hand with the forecasts for the sector from the OEMs, which indicate expectations for delivery of new helicopters have shifted upwards in the corporate and VIP markets.

SM: The VVIP market (as in VVIP, rather than the VIP) never really showed much of a dip. This very high-end of the market was surprisingly resilient to the ‘financial crash’. It showed a dip in the immediate aftermath, but since 2011 it has actually been fairly steady and shows signs of growth.

Some of the growth has been directly associated with the number of $100m+ Mega Yachts being built and launched.

We do see and hear about a number of new VVIP clients – but the market has never been huge, and it is unlikely to ever be on the scale of offshore or EMS. Nevertheless it is still a very valuable sector and shows a lot more resilience than others.

JH: We live in a fast-paced world where immediacy is only getting more important. Our owners/operators want to know they can efficiently get to and from their required destinations, but also know it will be done safely and in a comfortable environment.

Which models are VVIP owners/operators looking at?

CP: The 6- to 9-seat or Five-Ton types are clearly the most popular. They offer spacious cabins and can still fit comfortably on the helipads of yachts. The fact that they are multi-engine aircraft is a given.

SM: In our observation, VVIP Owners are generally going to buy the biggest aircraft they can either afford, or fit aboard their Yacht and/or other places they want to go (such as Monaco). As a result, the trend is that the majority of the sector is populated by the 8-seat/Five-Ton types.

It is also a general truth that most of the purchase decision is driven by the cabin. This is why the S-76 is still used as a benchmark of comparison. Owners do not like ‘locking knees’, and they also prefer a decent amount of headroom.

Other factors do play a part in the purchase decision, of course, but it can be surprising quite how much the seating and cabin environment dominate.

Is the recovery of the VVIP helicopter market happening worldwide, or is it just in Europe?

CP: Again, I have not seen any downturn in this market, but the usage of VVIP helicopters is clearly becoming more and more popular, due to security and safety reasons. (CAT VVIP helicopters have probably the very best safety records of all types of aviation/transport and they can ensure a high level of security for their passengers.)

Another reason is the increase of HNWIs worldwide where more individuals can afford this kind of transportation.

With the new generation helicopters, maintenance costs are pretty reasonable, and by joining a commercial operator, owners often find they can benefit from preferential fuel, insurance and maintenance costs as well as reduce the over-all cost of operating by chartering the helicopter out with the operator.

The advantages of owning a helicopter have become very attractive for both individuals and corporations.

SM: That is a challenge to answer. I believe the main impediment to growth in other areas is due to unfavourable regulation; regulation that does not permit owners to fully-utilise the flexibility and capability that their helicopters offer.

JH: We’re seeing VVIP helicopter transport interest from around the world. In Europe, we’ve seen a keen interest specifically in the Bell 429 model for VVIP transport.

In Summary…

Whilst the oil and gas sector of helicopter operations is flat at this time, other areas of operations are growing fast – and the VVIP niche is one such area, according to those involved in that industry.

The market may be small compared with the oil and gas segments, but it is growing. And that can only be good for the helicopter manufacturers.

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