RotorHub talks to Jaspal Jandu, CEO of leading aircraft lessor LCI, about the impact of the pandemic and other issues affecting the commercial helicopter market.
What’s your view of the current helicopter market within Europe? While the pandemic has obviously had a major impact on the fixed-wing sector, has the rotary-wing industry come through it relatively unscathed so far?
The helicopter market in Europe has remained highly active throughout the COVID-19 period and has been largely unaffected by the pandemic.
Whilst there were some initial changes in operating procedures to ensure COVID safety, levels of demand and aircraft utilisation in the operating sectors that LCI serves have remained robust, particularly in emergency medical services (EMS).
The market in Europe is now recovering to pre-pandemic levels.
Looking ahead, what sectors of the market do you believe will be the most dominant in the next five years and see the greatest increase in demand for helicopters?
The rapid development of offshore wind energy will lead to fast growth in this sector in the coming years, with the average annual offshore wind capacity expected to reach 80 GW by 2030 – a 1,500% increase compared to 2020.
The latest generation helicopters, such as those operated by LCI, are faster, emit less CO2 per passenger mile and offer greater availability to the end-user than crew transfer vessels, and research (from Air and Sea Analytics) suggests that there will be a need for 100 more helicopters over the next 10 years.
Demand for helicopter-based emergency medical services will also continue to grow strongly, with the time-saving benefits of these critical missions a crucial factor.
LCI supports EMS operations across the globe and is continuing to expand in this sector, with our first UK lease placement occurring earlier in 2021, involving the delivery of two new Leonardo AW109SPs to Sloane Helicopters. These aircraft are being flown on EMS operations for The Air Ambulance Service, which is the local air ambulance provider for Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland.
“For the foreseeable future, we believe there will be strong demand for all offshore operations.”
There has been a great deal of debate regarding the future of offshore helicopter support in light of the expected long-term decline of the oil and gas sector. How do you assess the situation?
The oil and gas sector remains a key user of helicopter operations, and that use is likely to increase as energy demand returns post-pandemic. The offshore wind sector is also growing strongly.
In the long term, there may well be some rebalancing between the various energy types but, for the foreseeable future, we believe there will be strong demand for all offshore operations.
As the fixed-wing commercial aviation sector makes strides towards using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), how do you think the helicopter industry is progressing in terms of sustainability?
Sustainable aviation fuel will form a part of aviation operations in the future, and the helicopter industry is evolving quickly to make this a reality. Already, all Airbus helicopters are certified to run on 50% SAF.
We are working closely with other manufacturers to encourage rapid and meaningful advances towards the use of SAF, as well as other efficiencies that will help ensure even more sustainable helicopter operations.
Has the helicopter leasing market changed since the pandemic began? Has the level of activity been affected, and has LCI had to support any existing clients that have struggled due to its impact?
The mission-critical nature of many helicopter operations has ensured that the market has remained very active during COVID-19. We have worked with clients throughout the pandemic to support their operations and, in some cases, to introduce further flexibility into their lease agreements.
LCI has continued to grow over the last two years and has raised over US$1 billion in helicopter capital since 2019. We launched a $230 million helicopter leasing joint venture with Sumitomo Mitsui Finance and Leasing Company in 2020 and expanded that this year with $120 million growth – taking its fleet size from 19 to 31 aircraft – so clearly the transactional appetite is there.
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