Commercial green shoots in Brazil

Brazil has the ninth largest economy in the world, and within South America, São Paulo has one of the highest levels of helicopter ownership for a city.

Along with oil and gas operations off the coast, therefore, it is fair to say that the country has a demand for helicopters.

However, Brazil is emerging from a recent political crisis and licking its wounds from the oil downturn, like many other nations.

São Paulo is in close proximity to Itajubá, where Brazilian rotorcraft manufacturer Helibras, a subsidiary of Airbus Helicopters, is based.

I recently visited the site and there was a renewed buzz about business after a few years of declining commercial aircraft sales. This is not over-zealous, as seven helicopters are expected to be sold this year compared to just two in 2015.

Richard Marelli, CEO of Helibras, confirmed that last year’s sales were significantly down compared to normal years and was frank in his observations:

‘The civil market has been terrible. Last year, we sold two aircraft. In normal years for Helibras, we sold [about] 25 and in very good years [such as 2010] we sold [around] 40-42 aircraft.’

He added that civil sales for the company were generally in the light to medium range, including the H135, H145 and a couple of Dauphin variants.

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(Photo: author)

In 2017, Helibras is aiming for nine aircraft to be sold. Assisting Helibras’ recovery is the fact it dominates the domestic commercial market. Its main competitors are small service centres which are located throughout the country. These rival companies are highly unlikely to challenge Helibras’s lion’s share of the market.

Adding to the general economic woes from the flatlining energy market, Brazil has had to also contend with scandals surrounding the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, where funds were allegedly moved around by politicians and company officials from the executive board. This has naturally impacted confidence.

However, the H225 has been a good servant of Helibras and for offshore missions in the region.

The availability of the new H160 medium utility helicopter in Brazil is likely to provide the company with a welcome boost to its commercial activity. Around four prospective sales for the type have been earmarked to date.

In France, a customer demonstration tour of the model took place in October and a potential buyer from Brazil was present.

The H160 is expected to receive certification in 2017. In the summer of 2016, Airbus Helicopters revealed that first customer deliveries of the platform were anticipated for the end of 2018.

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(Photo: Airbus Helicopters)

This pushes the initial offshore transport variant into 2019, by which time the oil and gas market is hoped to be more stable.

On the military front, one of the first tasks for the Itajubá facility was fulfilling the company’s contract with the Brazilian government to manufacturer and deliver 50 H225Ms.

The first of five to be configured as a naval combat variant is expected to be delivered to the Brazilian Navy in April 2018 after certification trials. The platforms will be equipped with MBDA’s AM39 Exocet air-to-surface missiles.

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(Photo: author)

In August Airbus Helicopters scored a publicity coup when 90 of its helicopters were used for the Olympic and Paralympic Games – with 35 aircraft from the Brazilian armed forces. The company cited 98% availability during the games.

This was achieved through inspections of H225M, Fennec and Panther K2 aircraft, according to Marelli. The nadir of the oil and gas crisis looks to have been reached in 2016. With dollar prices starting to stabilise in the high 50s per barrel, this will provide quiet optimism within the commercial market that looks to continue into next year.

For more on Helibras and its role within the Brazilian helicopter market, see our analysis on the commercial and military market respectively.

Don’t forget to check out the December/January edition of Rotorhub for further details on civilian helicopter operations throughout the globe, including news from the US Coast Guard’s fleet and a new aircraft joining Starspeed in the UK.

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