Offshore Oil and SAR form a combined market for big long-range helicopters.

AgustaWestland, Bell, Eurocopter, Kamov, Mil and Sikorsky are currently the strong contenders for heavy-lift missions to carry pax & supplies.

By Stuart Lau
ATP/FE/CFII Boeing 747, 747-400, 757/767, CRJ and Saab 340

Sikorsky's S92 aircraft is an advanced all-weather multirole aircraft. Many governments are privatizing their SAR capabilities opening up new markets to civil operators such as Bristow. In March 2013, the company won a bid to operate 11 S-92 aircraft in the UK.

Manufacturers are working to design helicopters to fly faster, farther, safer and with more payloads to meet the exacting specifications outlined by the offshore oil and gas industry. Search and rescue (SAR) service providers often outfit these same aircraft with mission-specific equipment to meet rigorous demands.

As military budgets shrink, companies like Eurocopter, Sikorsky, AgustaWestland, Bell and new entrants such as Russian Helicopters, selling Mil and Kamov, are all designing new civil models to aggressively compete for a share of this booming segment. JP Morgan suggests investments in offshore "deep water" exploration by major oil companies will grow at over 8% annually through 2020.

According to GE Aviation President (military) Jean Lydon-Rodgers, "The oil and gas market is really where the opportunity seems to be right now." GE plans on delivering around 800 helicopter engines per year through 2016. The company expects a major shift in where these engines are delivered.

In the past, nearly 70% of these engines would be delivered to military operators. By 2016, the military deliveries will shrink to just 30%, while civil deliveries will grow to 70% with the oil and gas sector leading the way. GE supplies engines to the in-service Sikorsky S92, AgustaWestland AW101 and AW189 as well as the new Bell 525.

Major companies like BP will spend tens of millions of dollars annually on contracting helicopter flights. These contracts are highly coveted; companies such as CHC, Bond, Bristow, PHI and Era provide this lift often at a hefty price—up to $6000 to $7000/hr. To fulfill the contractual requirements, these helicopters must be extremely safe and reliable since they fly up to 1500 hrs/year—much more than corporate or even military equivalents.

Oil & gas market for helos goes hand-in-hand with SAR

AgustaWestland sees continued growth in both the offshore oil and gas and SAR markets. The offshore oil and gas market represents around 30% of all AW139 sales. The SAR market is also growing as new programs are launched and existing equipment is replaced with new generation helicopters. The contracting of UK SAR to Bristow Helicopters is a major example."

AgustaWestland family

The AW139, 169, and 189 are part of the innovative AgustaWestland "family" of new generation helicopters. The company is positioned to be the sole rotorcraft manufacturer capable of offering a family of state-of-the-art helicopter types optimized for multirole operations. All of the new family members share the same design philosophy with respect to general architecture, performances, technology, mission capabilities, safety and maintenance.

All new AW helos share commonality of certification, safety and operational requirements and are designed to the latest CS/JAR/FAR29 and JAROPS3 standards. The family concept is also based on a similar approach to support, maintenance and training for enhanced operational effectiveness and safety as well as reduced costs.

Common cockpit technology enables quicker and easier training intended to allow pilots to transition across the 3 types with a 40% reduction in training time. The other current member of the AgustaWestland lineup includes the large 3-engine AW101, which satisfies the ultra long-range SAR role.


Entering service in 2003, the AW139 has become the market leader in the medium category in the offshore market. CHC is the largest operator of the type.

Originally developed as a joint venture with Bell—designated the AB139—the AW139 first flew in 2001. In November 2005, Bell withdrew from the partnership leaving the Anglo-Italian manufacturer to market the aircraft alone. Now, with over 730 orders, the AW139 is the best-selling helicopter in the intermediate category.

According to AgustaWestland, the AW139 was designed to become the benchmark helicopter in the industry by setting standards in terms of safety, performance and cost-effectiveness. It is ideal both in offshore and SAR roles thanks to an inherent multirole capability and flexibility of operation design.

Major offshore operators of the AW139 include CHC (the largest AW139 operator), ERA Group, PHI, Shell, Bristow, Gulf Helicopters, Saudi Aramco, Omni Helicopters, Bond Helicopters and West Star Aviation Services based in Malaysia.

Operators of the AW139 in the SAR configuration include the Spanish Marine Safety Agency (Sesamar), the Japanese Coast Guard, the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency, the Korean Coast Guard and the Italian Coast Guard. The Swedish Maritime Administration and Armed Forces of Malta have recently placed orders for AW139.

Powered by 2-P&WC PT6-67C engines (1679 shp/each), the AW139 can cruise at a max speed of 167 kts with a range of 570 nm with auxiliary fuel tanks. Advanced avionics are based on the Honeywell Epic system—the core of Dassault's EASy and Gulfstream's PlaneView systems—complete with a SAR capable 4-axis autoflight system. This all-weather aircraft is certified for flight into known icing (FIKI).


The 10-seat, twin-engine, AW169 is smallest of the new family of helicopters offered by AgustaWestland. Recently, the AW169 AAS was unveiled as a contender for the Armed Aerial Scout program.

The AW169 is the smallest of the new AgustaWestland "family concept" that includes the AW139, 169 and 189. According to Agusta-Westland the aircraft will be certified in 2014 and has already sold nearly 90 units. The AW169 is a clean sheet design unveiled at the 2010 Farnborough Airshow.

First flight followed in May 2012. It has 2 advanced FADEC-controlled PW210A engines (1000 shp each) and a highly efficient rotor system will allow the 4.5-ton AW169 to operate in challenging hot-and-high conditions.

Top speed is listed at 140 kts. Early customers include West Star Aviation Services (offshore variant), INAER and the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (EMS/SAR version).


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