Asia-Pacific Region’s Offshore and EMS Markets Begin to Stir

Airbus Helicopters’ head of Asia-Pacific, Vincent Dubrule.

Airbus Helicopters sees that the market for helicopters in Asia-Pacific’s oil and gas sector is starting to recover and that there is also growing interest in the region for emergency medical services (EMS) helicopters.

“The oil and gas market crashed two years ago due to the collapse in the oil price,” says Vincent Dubrule, Airbus Helicopters head of Asia-Pacific.

“The oil and gas sector was very important for all helicopter makers and then the market just disappeared – it couldn’t have been any worse than it was. Now we are starting to see a recovery, but it’s happening slowly.

“The market will not reach the same volumes as we saw three years ago,” says Dubrule, adding that the type of helicopter required has also changed.

“The Airbus H225 and other large heavy helicopters were ‘the king’ of oil and gas, but now we see a restart with the medium-heavy Airbus H175. The market is looking for a helicopter that is a bit smaller, more versatile.”

The lower acquisition cost of the H175, coupled with lower operating costs, helps operators when aircraft utilization may be lower, he says.

Dubrule says a market segment that has been doing well in Asia-Pacific is emergency medical services.

“It is a very important segment and one that is going to continue to develop,” says Dubrule, adding that it is a relatively untapped market.

“In mature markets like Europe, you have three EMS helicopters for one million people. If Asia Pacific countries achieve that level of penetration, it means there is a market for more than 1,000 EMS helicopters,” he says.

Dubrule notes Airbus Helicopters is working in Thailand with hospital groups, government agencies and helicopter operators to create the necessary “ecosystem” to support the development of EMS helicopter services there.

He says many Asia-Pacific countries have a need for more EMS helicopters, but one challenge is finding a mechanism where EMS helicopter services can be funded.

Recent forest fires in Australia, meanwhile, have brought attention to the fact that helicopters are needed for firefighting.

Dubrule says Australia is using whatever helicopters are available to fight the fires, even military attack helicopters.

“Whether it [the current disaster] will trigger Australia to order helicopters specifically for firefighting I don’t know. It’s an open question,” he says.

Dubrule says large, heavy helicopters such as the H225 are very useful in times of disaster. “With 10 tons you can really do things in terms of evacuation. You really save lives.”

Besides EMS, another promising segment is helicopters for private and business aviation (PBA). Dubrule says high-net-worth individuals and businesses turn to PBA for convenience. He notes that Indonesia has a problem with traffic congestion, as does the Philippines. “You see pockets of PBA, but for this segment to take off, what you need is ‘opening of the skies.’ You cannot own a private helicopter and make it work for you if you do not have the open skies. The other issue is infrastructure, such as availability of helipads,” he adds.

In terms of military helicopters, the year 2020 is an important one for Airbus Helicopters and Singapore because the Singapore Air Force will take delivery of the first H225M helicopters from an order the country placed in late 2016.

Singapore’s Ministry of Defense ordered an undisclosed number of H225M aircraft on behalf of the air force. Airbus Helicopters said in a statement at the time that “Singapore’s [new] fleet of H225Ms will be used for a wide spectrum of operations including search and rescue, aeromedical evacuation, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.”