HEMS/SAR - To The Rescue?

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The Helicopter industry has been through (and is still going through) a very difficult and turbulent time. The price of oil is still below $50/barrel, CHC and Erickson both filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection & a number of high profile accidents have all negatively contributed to a market that was undergoing change.

The most affected market to have been hit by the recent downturn has been the offshore sector, this has had a huge 'knock-on' effect to the OEMs. The offshore market was the cash cow for the OEMs and drove a lot of the developments in helicopter technology, which would then trickle down to the other smaller types the OEMs produced.

However, just as Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo-Finmeccanica (formally AgustaWestland) and Bell were in the last throes of developing/delivering their new 'super medium' helicopters (H175, AW189 & Bell 525 respectively) - which were aimed firmly at the offshore market - the offshore market suffered its biggest ever slump.

PHOTO: Heli-Alps Bell 429

But there seems to be a silver lining to this dark gray cloud - HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) and SAR (Search And Rescue). A large chunk of the helicopter industry is looking to HEMS/SAR to keep the industry rolling forward.

The recent Helitech International Expo in Amsterdam was awash with HEMS/SAR-related offerings. Airbus Helicopters displayed an H145 in HEMS configuration for Elifriulia; Bell had a Heli-Alps operated Bell 429 on display in a HEMS configuration, and Leonardo-Finmeccanica had a AW169 on show that is destined for Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance - along with an interactive SAR Hoist display.

There has been a raft of deliveries for HEMS operators worldwide. Leading the charge is China, who have taken a large number of HEMS aircraft (AW119's and H130's). The North American market has also had a good year for HEMS, with many single engine helicopters being used to replace a number of more expensive twin variants, and this trend looks set to continue.

PHOTO: Leonardo-Finmeccanica AW169 for Specialist Aviation Sevices/Kent, Surrey, Sussex Air Ambulance

Even large well-established operators, like Bristow and CHC, are expanding (or rather moving assets from an offshore role) their SAR offerings with the UK Coastguard & Irish Coastguard respectively. This diversification of the operator will help until the price of oil has returned to over $60-$70 per barrel.

The offshore industry will welcome the news that from January 2017 the OPEC members have agreed to reduce the amount of oil produced by 1.2 million barrels per day. This will push the price of a barrel up, which in turn will buoy the offshore industry, allowing it to get back on its feet - but there's still a long way to go.

PHOTO: Airbus Helicopters H145

All Photos by Daniel Williams

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