The civil rotorcraft industry has grown by an annual average of 2.3% over the last 10 years, however it is no secret that after the economic downturn of 2008, and the oil price collapse in 2014, there were many concerns as to the industry’s recovery. The Flight Helicopter Forecast (FHF) to 2027, prepared by Flight Ascend Consultancy and published by FlightGlobal, looks into the statistical eb and flow of the rotorcraft landscape, and how despite challenges, it has witnessed almost 4,500 new helicopters in operation, in the last decade.
Evidence from the report shows us that business, passenger and private operations held the second largest fleet share at 29%, having risen from 22% in 2008. This commercial area has accounted for the largest annual fleet growth of 5.1%, accounting for 2,500 of the total new rotorcrafts in service. The increased availability of light helicopters such as the Robinson R66 or Bell 505, which are frequently used in commercial flight, are likely a key factor in this growth. Light-single helicopters account for 2,100 new rotorcraft, which suggests that commercial rotorcraft aviation is becoming more and more common place – as we move toward air taxi concepts from Uber, Google and Rolls-Royce.
The largest role share is held by the civil Utility/Multi-Role (aerial work), however with low annual fleet growth of 0.7%, it has been areas with more capacity for innovation and technological advancement that have flourished. Search and Rescue (SAR) and Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) operations have increasingly been utilised for time-sensitive operations and, otherwise, hostile environments. The two command a 13% share of the rotorcraft operations and the, above average, growth of 4.2% average annual growth is testament to the effectiveness of rotorcrafts in these operations.
Whilst annual average growth has been consistent across all roles, certain areas have been more heavily affected by economic crashes. Slowing rotorcraft operations may not be solely down to these extrinsic factors, as the results of the rotorcraft size share suggest. Medium-Twin helicopters – the staple choice for offshore operations – have had some 730 helicopters added, only 80 of which will be allocated to offshore roles. Offshore oil & gas companies have scarcely halted or slowed operations in the last decade and leaves a clear and present possibility that they are turning to alternate technologies, such as unmanned drones, to handle their needs.
Many of the rotorcraft capabilities used today have been integrated into Europe and America for many years, and using them across HEMS, SAR, Law Enforcement, commercial aviation and civil operations are common place; Asia-Pacific markets have accounted for 1,400 new helicopters and a share size of 18%, up from 14%. Despite the restrictions on Chinese airspace restricting demand, there has been an increase from 90, to 500, in the 10-year period. The rotorcraft industry is growing and doing so with resilience. As technologies develop further in HEMS, Law Enforcement and SAR operations we are likely to see a global uptake in rotorcraft flight hours. Equally, the changes we see to civil airspace through air-taxi’s, utility and service helicopters will have an impact on our economy, and its efficiency.