Helicopters - The Future of Regional Aviation?

Although the growth of the helicopter market is still mainly driven by the demand in the military sector, the civil market is steadily increasing its share in the segment due to the accelerating regional demand for helicopters in the global economy. For instance, manufacturers see the potential in expanding helicopter’s utilization in the regional air travel, as rotorcraft can offer faster connectivity without a need for costly development of the infrastructure. However, is the technology already capable to make such a leap?

At a time when fuel prices were low and cities were enjoying large investment flows, the idea of helicopters operating in and out of city heliports seemed feasible. Today, however, because of increased costs, only a handful of passenger helicopter services remain around the world. Meantime, while the global rotorcraft market has been steadily growing, the share of regional jets is expected to decline from 13% to 6% during the next 20 years. Consequently, such trends allow the manufacturers to anticipate that with increased speed and productivity, helicopters could indeed take a certain share in the segment of short-haul flights, currently occupied by regional aircraft operators.

“One of the reasons why the idea of helicopters becoming a new means of regional air transportation didn’t become reality was the fact that they were extremely noisy even from a long distance. This naturally made airlines think twice before shifting from airplanes to helicopters,” says A. Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota. “But now some of the factors that have previously forced the operators to abandon the idea of rotary-wing passenger services are now affecting the large airports that serve major cities. For example, while air traffic continues to grow massively, concerns about noise and environmental impacts have kept airport infrastructure from growing in line with the demand, resulting in airport congestion. Thus the idea of using helicopters to service commuter and regional routes is beginning to re-emerge.”

Currently, each take-off and landing - whether it is a 19-seat Beechcraft or a 180-seat Airbus - requires a runway slot. Therefore, when solving the “capacity versus demand” dilemma, it often makes more sense to take smaller fixed-wing aircraft out of the equation and free up the slots for larger aircraft, which indeed has become a common practice among a lot of carriers. Nevertheless, as the demand for regional travel remains high, airport congestion issues are in need of more elaborate solutions, which is exactly where new rotorcraft engineering solutions could become useful.

“Of course, in some areas it is considerably easy to create additional capacity. However, in most cases, if you want to build a new runway and you are not in the planning phase today, you will probably not have it until the late 2020s. Therefore, if expanding the infrastructure is not an option and you need to get relatively low numbers of passengers off the runway, vertical lift is one of the solutions that comes to mind, since for that you only need a helipad,” A. Legenzov adds.

Meantime airplane manufacturers are also reshaping their strategies in response to the industry trends. For instance, Bombardier Aerospace has recently confirmed it is on a path to exit the regional jets market which it pioneered two decades ago. The company’s representatives stated that while they believe their CRJs still have the potential for selling, their future will be focused on new CSeries narrow-bodies.

Nevertheless, according to A. Legenzov, it is still too early to be writing off the regional jets, as even the most modern rotorcraft are not as fast as the former. Instead, the industry could be thinking about segmentation, rather than replacement, as regional services provided by helicopters might take routes of about 300 km or less. If such changes take place during the next decade, we could witness the birth of the more diverse as well as versatile aviation industry.

About Helisota:

Helisota is an international provider of integrated maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for rotorcraft aviation. The company is an EASA Part 145 and Part 147 organization as well as an authorized Mil Helicopters and Robinson R44 service centre. Based on ISO 9001:2008 certified services and products, Helisota supports various government and private rotorcraft operators from 25 countries worldwide.

The company specializes in base and line maintenance, conversion and modernization, spare parts and components support, logistics, technical training, as well as post design services and CAMO support. Helisota provides integrated technical services for Mi-8T (P, PS), Mi-8MT (Mi-17), Mi-8MTV-1 (Mi-17-1V), Mi-8AMT (Mi-171) and Robinson R-44 types of helicopters.

Helisota is a member of the Avia Solutions Group family – WSE listed provider of the integrated aviation services. For more information about Helisota, please visit our website at http://www.helisota.com/.