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Super medium helicopters, represented in operational service by the Airbus Helicopters H175 and the AgustaWestland AW189, have proven their worth since their inception three years ago, according to a Waypoint Leasing study.
Helicopter manufacturers created the super medium category to bridge a perceived gap, in a booming offshore oil-and-gas market, between 12-seaters and heavy helicopters seating up to 19 on long distances. The first two, the H175 (EC175) and the AW189, were introduced at the worst time – the beginning of a major downturn. They have been delivered at a much slower rate than hoped. Meanwhile, the Bell 525 Relentless is still in development.
Nevertheless, the five dozen super medium rotorcraft in service have proven their lower operating costs make them worth the investment, says Waypoint. A super medium’s cost per seat-mile is less than a heavy Sikorsky S-92’s at most radiuses of action (RoA), Waypoint reckons.
At an optimal RoA of 140 nautical miles, the super mediums’ cost per seat-mile are at their lowest — in the $3.0 to $3.5 range. That represents a $0.5 to $1.0 advantage over a new-build S-92. While the lower hourly operating costs for super medium aircraft account for some of the advantage, capital costs are an even larger driver, given that a super medium’s acquisition cost is about 40 percent less than that of a new-build S-92, Waypoint notes, per OEM list prices.
From 260 nautical miles, the calculation turns in favor of the S-92, designed to combine a greater number of passengers with a longer range.
“On average, 90 percent of offshore beds (and in some cases close to 100 percent) can be served well within the range of all three super mediums operating with a full load of 16 passengers,” said Waypoint.
However, the study doesn’t mention that the remaining few percent may be a make-or-break criterion for a contract. To try to beat that argument, the manufacturers of the super medium have optional seating layouts. The AW189 is certified to carry 19 passengers, the H175 is planned to be approved for 18 next year, and Bell intends to have the Relentless certified for 19. But those configurations will necessarily have shorter RoAs. “It is not clear how commercially viable such high-density layouts will be; we note that the high-density (15 pax) AW139 layout is a rarity offshore,” stated Waypoint.
The recently announced AW189K, which, instead of the baseline GE CT7 engine, is powered by a 28-percent more powerful Safran Aneto, may be an exception, as it will maintain passenger capacity at greater range.
The study notes that the main competitor for a new-build super medium may be a used S-92, due to its reduced capital cost. As a lessor, Waypoint has the S-92, AW189, and H175 types in its portfolio.