The civil helicopter market in Southeast Asia has been flat in recent years, due to the fallout from the depressed oil and gas industry, but helicopter makers can take solace in the relatively resilient China and Australasian markets.

The civil helicopter market in China is less skewed toward the oil and gas sector than Southeast Asia’s helicopter market, and last year posted the strongest fleet growth in the region, according to Asian Sky Research, the  Hong Kong-based aviation consultancy, in a preview of its 2017-year end Civil Helicopter survey.

Asian Sky Group managing director Jeff Lowe says China’s civil helicopter market had a net gain last year of 79 helicopters, making it the fastest-growing sizable helicopter market in Asia-Pacific. Its fleet growth was 15%, he says. Asian Sky calculates the number of turbine-powered helicopters and subtracts those that have left the fleet to determine the net gain. 

The next-fastest-growing markets were Australia and New Zealand, which added 24 and 16 helicopters last year, respectively, he says. The fleet growth was small single digits but is still substantial considering Australia and New Zealand already have large installed fleets. 

Southeast Asia experienced very little growth last year, with large Southeast Asia countries each generally only adding three to six helicopters each, says Lowe. “The reason for that is that the big driver of growth for the Southeast Asian markets for the past 10 years or so was the oil and gas industry. And the past few years there was no growth there. However, there were some Southeast Asian countries in the past year with new or renewed oil and gas contracts which allowed helicopters to enter the market. But at the same time, there were so many [helicopters for the oil and gas industry] that were leaving that it kind of balanced out the growth numbers,” says Nadav Kessler, Asian Sky Group rotary sales director for Asia-Pacific. 

Lowe says, however, says that Asian Sky’s research shows there was a very small increase last year across the region in the fleet for helicopters used in the oil and gas industry. “I’d like to add that this is the first time in the past three years we have seen a net increase rather than a gradual decline,” says Asian Sky’s Kessler. 

“This could be one small indicator [that the oil and gas market is finally starting to recover]. I have to be careful with what I say on whether this is the bottom, but this may be a sign,” he says. 

While everyone is still trying to determine whether the oil and gas segment is still comatose, it is clear there are good sales opportunities in the multi-mission and emergency medical services segment. 

“Multi-mission is where the helicopters are being added,” says Lowe, adding that the other market doing well is emergency medical services (EMS) helicopters. 

“Australia and New Zealand [fleet growth] is pretty much dominated by the multi-mission segment. And China, as it grows, these multi-mission helicopters, primarily single-engine entry-level helicopters, are what’s driving growth in the Chinese market. Australia and China, the two biggest markets and the biggest segment is multi-mission, so it would make sense that it’s also the fastest growing,” says Kessler. 

In terms of EMS helicopters, Australasia and Northwest Asia are the main markets. 

“For Northeast Asia, it is Japan. It has been existing for a long time. In Korea, it was handled by the government for a long time, and then finally privatized,” says Kessler. 

He says Greater China is showing good growth opportunities for EMS helicopters and “maybe soon some Southeast Asian countries,” he says.