ACH targets superyacht sector for growth


Growing helicopter sales to superyacht owners is a key goal for Airbus Corporate Helicopters (ACH), according to its head Frederic Lemos. “In this niche market (for us), ACH is selling regularly seven to eight aircraft a year,” Lemos told Superyacht Investor during the Monaco Yacht Show. “We estimate we hold almost 70% of the market share.”

To boost sales, the manufacturer is monitoring key build projects and offering guidance on the installation of helidecks on yachts and their safe operation via its app ACH for Yachts. ACH is tracking about 70 build projects featuring yachts of 100m (328ft) or larger, at which size helipads can be considered, said Lemos sitting beside the new Airbus ACH145, fitted with five-blade rotor on top of the Yacht Club de Monaco.

Popular Airbus models for this market are the H135 light twin helicopter and H145, according to ACH. The H135 has a D-value [a measure of the largest overall dimension of the helicopter when rotors are turning] of just 12m. “This is the smallest footprint in the world for a twin-engine helicopter,” said Lemos. “Yacht owners choose it because it’s very reliable and has a low maintenance requirement. So, clients can go to sea for eight months without the need for heavy maintenance or to bring an engineer with them.”

The manufacturer’s app, ACH for Yachts, is designed to guide owners, shipyard project managers and yacht managers on how best to install and operate helidecks on superyachts.

“There is an increasing need for us to act as a trusted advisor in the community of yachting to enable access to information [about helideck installation and operation] – to place ourselves in the centre of the community about yacht integration for helicopters,” said Lemos. “Safety is at the core of everything we do.”

Free from the App Store, the app delivers specific advice on how to plan the installation of a helideck or hangar on a superyacht, plus the structural support needed. (Not all helicopter landing platforms are designated equally. They can be fully regulated helidecks or touch-and-go bases, which can only be used in private).

Also included is guidance on how to safely operate helicopters from superyachts. Topics include how to fold helicopter blades, lash the aircraft to the deck, how to take into account D-values plus a range of other factors.

“ACH makes itself available to [shipyard] engineers and the industry to help in making the most of integrating the helicopter into the operation of a superyacht,” said Lemos. “We have seen several integration projects in the past that were unlikely [to succeed].”

The manufacturer advises planning not just for current needs but future requirements. “While the H135 has been the reference model, we advise allowing space in the build design for a bigger helicopter in case the principal’s family gets bigger and a larger helicopter is needed.” The D-Value of the H135 is just 12m compared to 13.5m for the H145 – enabling principals to move from a five-passenger cabin to an eight-passenger cabin.

Statistics from VesselsValue show there is plenty of scope for helicopter manufacturers to boost sales to superyacht owners. Sam Tucker, the company’s head of Superyachts, estimates that about 4% of 24m plus ‘live’ motor yachts (excluding order book and lost vessels) are equipped with some sort of helideck or pad. That represents 244 yachts out of a total fleet of 7,994 yachts.

But as yacht sizes grow, so does the popularity of helicopters. For motor yachts above 80m, the figure with helidecks rises to 53% or 80 out of 150 vessels. The numbers are even higher for motor yachts with an Ice Class rating, found on many explorer yachts. For Ice Class yachts of 24m plus, 50% are equipped with a helideck (15 out of 30 vessels) and 100% of 80m plus vessels (eight out of eight).

Lemos at ACH believes the pandemic has focused potential owners on the benefits helicopters can bring. “During the [Covid-19] confinement crisis, people realised that helicopters help you to reach places to isolate more easily.” That meant helicopters were in demand for transport of high-net worth individuals to villas and to yachts.

Meanwhile, ACH is expecting to sell 70 helicopters this year, back to pre-Covid levels, according to Lemos. “The helicopter market is back on track to regain its pre-Covid performance – after a very small impact last year,” said Lemos. Read more about ACH’s view of the helicopter market at Superyacht Investor’s sister title Helicopter Investor.

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