Exploring the Helicopter Market Landscape and MRO Ecosystem

According to a June 2021 Fortune Business Insights report, the global helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services market size was worth $7.21 billion in 2020. Despite challenges to the industry during the pandemic , it is expected to grow further from $7.48 billion in 2021 to $10.23 billion in 2028, a compound annual growth rate of 4.57%. With increasing short-haul air travel and rapid urbanization driving demand for helicopter services across the globe, two technical advisors from Jet Support Services, Inc. (JSSI), discuss the market and the MRO ecosystem on both sides of the pond.

UK-based Ty Corley, Technical Advisor for Helicopters at JSSI and Technical Chairman of the British Helicopter Association (BHA), and Kevin Mawhinney, Technical Advisor for Helicopters at JSSI, based in San Francisco, highlight some of the current industry trends and challenges for operators.

What does the helicopter maintenance market look like in 2022?

Corley: As the pandemic continues to abate and restrictions are slowly lifted, the maintenance market is recovering. I see demand for VIP and emergency medical (EMS) services increasing, with the AW109s for VIP services and the five-bladed H145 and AW169 helicopters for EMS leading the way.

A key indicator of the market recovery is that there are more advertised job openings for engineers in the aviation and helicopter market. Additionally, an increase in the number of aircraft coming out of storage to support the ramp-up of offshore oil, gas and renewables over the coming months will drive additional demand for maintenance crews.

Mawhiney: The upward trend in flight activity in North America and around the world will drive helicopters into maintenance facilities to overhaul dynamic components, repair instruments or recondition rotor blades. Combined with increased aftermarket sales, I would expect MROs to be busy this year with pre-purchase inspections and customizations for new owners.

How healthy is the MRO ecosystem?

Mawhiney: A backlog of work would usually be a good problem for MRO stores. However, for those who are short on mechanics due to the pandemic, retirements or lack of new mechanics in the industry, it becomes a juggling act to meet the work schedule. This problem is not going away anytime soon, especially as the maintenance staff ages. Without immediate intervention, we are heading towards a critical mass.

Another piece of the puzzle for MROs is inventory management. Not just the capital required to have parts on the shelf, but buying the right parts. The overall cost of parts has also increased and stores are forced to pass this on to the customer, which can be difficult to explain when it exceeds the original budget.

What was previously a closed ecosystem between an MRO and OEM has expanded to include third-party options to support maintenance operations. This encompasses not only securing parts, but also using external maintenance sources to help with specialist work. Many MROs who have specialized training and capabilities visit customers to provide these services.

Corley: Across Europe, the MRO ecosystem is healthy, despite higher than normal supply chain pressures due to the pandemic and increased workloads and prices for parts and services. Brexit. However, due to the continued impact of COVID restrictions and the fallout from Brexit, there is a shortage of qualified engineers, and UK-certified engineers are currently not permitted by EASA to work on aircraft. registered by EASA, although the UK allows EASA-approved engineers to work on UK-registered aircraft. Fortunately, as COVID isolation rules are relaxed in the UK, we are seeing staff being able to return to work more quickly, reducing the pressure.

What lessons have been learned from 2021?

Mawhiney: The main lesson learned from 2021 is the need for flexibility. The past two years have forced us all to continually make new plans based on the changing environment. The supply chain has stretched and as a result it is no longer just about shipping an aircraft part around the world. MROs have become accustomed to having to deal with a stuck engine seal with a courier company due to weather, COVID or other delays. Historically a priority delivery would arrive early in the morning to fly that day but this is no longer a guarantee.

Corley: For me, the main lesson learned is the resilience of the helicopter market, especially in relation to commercial fixed-wing operations. This is largely due to the many ways helicopters can be used. EMS helicopters and parastatal activity have been relatively untouched for most of the pandemic. Additionally, the VIP charter side of the market has seen a resurgence in usage in 2021; this can partly be attributed to the return of popular public events to the UK, such as Royal Ascot and the Silverstone Grand Prix, both of which are important events for the helicopter industry.

What trends or pitfalls should operators watch out for in 2022?

Mawhiney: This year, I expect to see increased use of aircraft maintenance data. We’ve come to a point in the industry where, instead of operating on tribal knowledge and overnight delivery, we have the ability to tap into years of historical information. A helicopter operator or MRO can plan and forecast upcoming inventory needs and scheduled maintenance events based on facts, not educated guesses. We have moved from paper-based technical manuals to online versions and from whiteboards to computerized maintenance tracking systems. So it’s not a big leap to put that information into something that we can use.

The other trend I can see is the use of drones for certain operations that have historically relied on helicopters. Although I don’t think this will happen in the next two years, it is something we need to be aware of.

Corley: I expect delivery times for new helicopter orders to be longer due to increased demand. This can be offset by taking more aircraft out of storage to support the offshore market. There will also likely be further growth in the EMS, search and rescue, offshore renewables and VIP markets, with the AW109, 169 and H145 D3 proving popular. Although shortages of qualified staff may initially affect growth here in the UK, there is a chance that staffing will be corrected in the longer term, as companies start to invest in training young people through training programs. learning and licensing.

Also, as MROs seek to meet the challenges of Brexit transition issues and inflationary pressures, I agree with Kevin that the use of maintenance data will become much more commonplace, with MROs streamlining their activities by investing in maintenance tracking software such as Traxxall and SierraTrax.

MROs face many challenges and opportunities as they navigate the post-pandemic landscape. However, with the growing popularity of using helicopters, the only way is to climb

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