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By Sara Dhariwal, Senior Aviation Analyst, at Cirium Ascend Consultancy
Some eight years after the dramatic downturn in the offshore oil and gas support market, the winds have finally turned in possibly an equally dramatic fashion.
The increase in activity has been largely spurred by the Russia/Ukraine conflict as countries are scrambling to safeguard its energy supplies. In the most recent boost for the industry, the UK’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced “at least 100” oil and gas licenses in the North Sea at the end of July 2023.
The supply of existing fleet is becoming ever tighter, meaning additional capacity is likely to be required to serve the demand brought by these potential contracts. While the government has not said exactly where the licensed blocks will be, thoughts are going to what type of helicopters will be required.
The North Sea remains the region with the largest share of heavy helicopters with some 35% of the total in-service fleet of Sikorsky S-92As operating from the UK and Norway.
The high ratio is due to the number of deep-water oil rigs that can be found in the region. They require the range and payload of a heavy helicopter to complete a return journey to oil rigs furthest offshore without having to refuel.
However, would new capacity be required, the choice of larger helicopters has changed since the last upturn. In 2014 a new size category entered the market – the 15-16 seat Super Mediums – and which include the Airbus Helicopter H175 and the Leonardo AW189. The Super Mediums were developed as the OEMs spotted a gap in the market for a transportation option to rigs where the Heavy was not required, at a more economical proposition in both acquisition and operating costs.
|Type||Range||Seating capacity||Current fleet||Average value*|
|S-92A||540nm (~1000km)||Up to 18 passengers||200||US$18.1m|
|AW189||~340nm (630km)||Up to 16 passengers||46||US$14.7m|
|H175||~280nm (520km)||Up to 16 passengers||37||US$14.2m|
The most recent delivery of an S-92A into the offshore market was in 2019. Cirium Fleets Analyzer shows that almost 90% of the current S-92A fleet are between 10-20 years old. With the OEM recently announcing it is cancelling plans for the upgrade variant – the S-92B – it is unlikely we will see significant new deliveries for the type moving forward. Could this mean that the fleet will be replaced by SuperMediums?
Looking at the data, there appear to be signs the Super Mediums are indeed chipping away at the market share at the expense of the Heavy.
Comparing the growth curves the Super Mediums do seem to be on course to grow the combined fleet to match that of the current S-92 fleet. Tracking growth for the two types individually, the scenario is very different.
This analysis begs the question of whether the market is big enough for more than two helicopters of size Super Mediums or larger – and if isn’t which one(s) will take the most share?
In addition, there is another newcomer waiting to enter the ring – the Bell 525 Relentless. The type was launched in 2012 and deliveries are expected to start imminently.
According to the OEM technical information, the machine has a seating capacity of 16 passengers and the range is 480nm (~1,000km) – in other words it is the size of a Super Medium with the range of a Heavy. Little is known thus far about the current backlog for the type. Is it possible that this machine, when finally delivering over 10 years after its initial launch, will be successful against its more established competition?
If there is one thing learned from the offshore market over the past decade, is to expect the unexpected!