It is a widely held view that the H225 (and AS332L2) has no future in the offshore oil and gas market after a “perfect storm” of two key factors which grounded the type from civilian operations worldwide. HeliHub.com estimates 126 H225s and AS332L2s are currently in storage around the world, as well as eight Sikorsky S92s and at least eight Leonardo AW139s.
From early 2011 to mid 2014, the Brent Crude oil price – a global market indicator – remained in the band $100 to $120 a barrel with remarkable consistency. By the end of 2014, it had halved to $50 and a year later bottomed out at around $30. Over the subsequent two and a half years, it has gradually risen again to around $80, but that is still widely considered not high enough for the big oil companies to re-start exploration on a big scale, and that is what is needed to get lots of helicopters back in the sky.
While the oil price drop started the storage trend, the second key factor was the CHC H225 accident near Bergen in April 2016 and subsequent move of CHC into “Chapter 11” status which accelerated the trend for the Airbus built types, with most parked helicopters ending up with their lessor owners. EASA grounded the type in June 2016, and while they lifted that decision four months later, the key national CAA authorities in UK and Norway have kept it in place until the Norwegian accident investigation report has finally been issued – which it still hasn’t.
With the production line in Marignane still working – mainly with military orders – the commercial challenges for Airbus are huge. If a helicopter operator has got past the point of their Accountable Manager agreeing to start using the type once again, the company would have the following options, in this order
- increase the utilisaiton of their currently operated fleet (non-H225/AS332L2)
- take their own H225/AS332L2s out of mothballs
- lease in pre-owned (repossessed) H225/AS332L2s from leasing companies
- lease in new H225/AS332L2s from leasing companies – aircraft that they had committed to buying prior to the oil price drop
- buy new H225/AS332L2s
With that timeline stretching out years, oil companies and offshore worker unions clearly wanting to be sure that their employees are safe, and the passage of time leading to expensive upgrades being needed on parked/respossessed aircraft, it is no surprise that commercial pressures are bringing out the creativity in the operators and leasing companies whose assets are sitting parked.
Last week, Norway’s leading engineering magazine TU published a story claiming that two H225s previously used as rescue helicopters in Hammerfest will be taken over by the Icelandic Coast Guard by the end of the year. This operator currently flies three AS332L1 aircraft, one that it owns and two leased in from Knut Axel Ugland Holding. The article claims that two H225s with under 3000 airframe hours each will replace the two leased L1s. The two aircraft involved are understood to be ex Bristow Norway aircraft with registrations LN-ONF (msn 2750) and LN-ONG (msn 2755), and the article said that Airbus will pick up the tab for retraining the Icelandic crews.
HeliHub.com has also observed a UK-registered AS332L2 in the old Bond red colour scheme being ferried out of the UK and into Spain or Portugal, reportedly for firefighting work. The aircraft routed from Aberdeen via Blackpool to Jersey on Sunday 24th, flying on to Aranchon in France and thence into Spain on Monday 25th.
to be continued tomorrow
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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