Airbus: helicopter industry recovery to take 2 to 3 years


Airbus Helicopters said it expects it will take “two to three” years for the industry to return its pre-Covid state, with geopolitical and economic uncertainty causing operators to delay purchase decisions towards the end of 2022.

The H145 was Airbus’s best-selling twin-engine aircraft in 2022, with the OEM recording 83 orders for the type. Mike Reyno Photo

“We’re on the way to a recovery,” David Prevor, head of marketing analysis and forecasting at Airbus Helicopters, told media while unveiling the manufacturer’s 2022 Market Status and Outlook report. “It’s not a one-shot recovery in one year and we’re back on track, it’s actually taking several years. And what we anticipate . . . is it will happen over the next two to three years to go back to the ‘normal’ level of the industry.”

According to Airbus, there were 1,082 turbine helicopter bookings around the globe in 2022, with 584 of those being for the civil and parapublic market, and 498 for the military sector. While this was a significant increase from the nadir of 751 global turbine booking in 2020, it was still some way below 2019’s figure, and represented just a two-percent uptick from the number of aircraft ordered in 2021.

Airbus itself recorded 374 civil orders in 2022, down from 2021’s 419.

Prevor said “the world economy has never faced such a high level of risk” as it did in the third quarter of 2022, and although prospects have now improved, this uncertainty led to the postponement of purchases.

That there was any growth in turbine sales was thanks to the military market, he said. Driven by orders for training and tactical transport aircraft, there were over 110 more military aircraft ordered in 2022 than in the previous year, while the civil and parapublic market orders actually reduced by 86.

However, there was the first sign of a rebound in the energy segment (in which Airbus includes wind power, along with oil-and-gas), with 16 aircraft ordered for work in the sector — a mix of Airbus H175s and H145s, and Leonardo AW169s and AW189s. Super mediums were the only helicopter class that sold more last year than in 2019, and this has been driven by growth in the energy segment, Prevor said.

Another positive sign is the continued strength of the private/business aviation sector, which was the only civil sector exceeding 2019 bookings in 2022.

Geographically, only the traditionally strong markets of Western Europe and North America exceeded 2019 orders last year.

In terms of productivity, the global average of flight hours per turbine helicopter was up seven percent from 2021. This increase was most pronounced in commercial operations (+18 percent) and oil-and-gas (+12 percent), with air medical, private/business aviation and public services remaining relatively static. Airbus said this was more a reflection that aircraft in these sectors were kept busy throughout the pandemic rather than any negative factor last year.

All told, this reflects “a balanced situation between supply and demand” in a global sense, said Prevor. “There was clear oversupply of helicopters in [civil] operations in 2021,” he said. “This oversupply has been absorbed and this is what we see here.”

Airbus believes the offshore industry is beginning a new cycle of acquisition, with super mediums set to eat into the heavy-lift aircrafts’ share of the market. Lloyd Horgan Photo