Honeywell forecasts uncertain turbine helicopter market

February 13, 2012

There remains uncertainty in near-term sales of turbine helicopters, but recent order momentum is encouraging. That’s one of the findings of Honeywell’s latest outlook for the purchase of turbine-powered civilian helicopters. The company, making its fourteenth forecast, expects light-single and twin-engine models will comprise 66 percent of expected purchases.

Overall, deliveries of civilian-use turbine helicopters will increase by 4,700 to 5,200 from 2012 to 2016. Economic growth prospects remain uncertain in key markets.

Recent order rates are good despite lingering tight credit and significant inventories of used, current-production helicopters. Concern over the economy in Western countries has reduced global purchase plans. Over the long term, China could be a strong contributor to a greater demand as it opens its airspace for civil use.

Global five-year fleet replacement and expansion plans decreased to 19 percent in 2012, off six points from 2011. There appears to be pent-up demand in 2013 and beyond that is contingent on improving economic conditions.

The Honeywell study finds that Latin America and Asia have the highest fleet replacement and expansion expectations of all regions. In terms of projected regional demand for new helicopters, Latin America and Asia tied for the world’s third largest regional market, following North America and Europe.

The reasons given for needing to replace current turbine helicopters pointed to the age of the current aircraft. They are getting expensive to maintain. That is a different answer than given in earlier surveys where improvements in speed, payload, range, and fancier avionics were more common reasons for upgrades.

Light, single-engine helicopters are highest on the want list, with intermediate- and medium-sized twin-engine helicopters coming in second. The most sought-after models among the singles were the Eurocopter AS350B, the Bell 407, and the Robinson R66. However, from a company standpoint the most popular manufacturers are Eurocopter, Bell Helicopter, and AgustaWestland. Honeywell’s announcement doesn’t say if listing the three companies in that order also means Eurocopter is top-ranked by customers. Robinson said in a press release recently that it has had a strong response to the R66 since it was certified in 2010.

This year’s survey queried more than 1,000 chief pilots and flight department managers of companies operating more than 2,450 helicopters worldwide. The survey excluded large fleet or “mega” operators which were interviewed separately. The input received from the large oil-and-gas support and EMS fleet operators is factored into the overall outlook in addition to the individual flight department responses.