European and U.S. helicopter makers came to December’s show in part to test the waters of Middle East markets.
Companies ranging from Eurocopter and AgustaWestland to specialists like U.K.-based Jewers Specialist Doors for hangars and Powervamp, which produces ground power units, attended. Commercial Director Gary Owen said Powervamp is tapping the market with two distributors established there and are looking to expand further.
Simon Burrows, sales and marketing director for U.K.-based FBO Patriot Aviation, was at the show "to see if there is a market" in the Middle East. "We’re talking to the key people (about setting up operations) and ready to go if the opportunity arises."
AgustaWestland and Eurocopter showed their civil lines, with Eurocopter stressing the AS350, EC130 and EC155 for the growing private and corporate market.
Bell, Sikorsky and Schweizer exhibited, although Bell piggybacked on Hawker Pacific, its European representative. Schweizer highlighted its 333 and 300C, with the 333 aimed primarily at the sightseeing market, said David Savage, its marketing supervisor. While the aircraft has a low initial cost and is inexpensive to operate, one of the biggest problems in selling smaller helicopters in the Middle East is that many governments there will not give ownership permits, he said. The United Arab Emirates has a more relaxed attitude toward private ownership, and Schweizer is looking at starting a flight-training program in Umm al-Qalwain, one of the UAE’s seven emirates. The program would train civil pilots using the 300C, which would allow training during summer temperatures that can exceed 115 deg. F. Schweizer is looking for financial partners to help start the program.
Dane Pranke, Bell’s Middle East/Africa director, said many new helicopters going into the region are upgrades. Petroleum Helicopters in Egypt and Gulf Helicopter, for instance, are upgrading their fleets. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. now requires helicopters entering the country to be less than two years old, with fewer than 2,000 hr. This is causing Bristow Helicopters to upgrade its aging Bell 212 fleet to 412s for a new five-year contract with Exxon Mobil. Pranke also said there is more interest in corporate helicopters, particularly in Dubai. He said one Middle East EMS operator is considering ordering 412s.
Middle East militaries are also upgrading their fleets. The Royal Saudi Air Force is replacing 205s and 212s with new 412s with glass cockpits, upgraded Pratt & Whitney PT6-9 FADEC-controlled engines, flirs and night-vision goggles. It has already taken 16 412s and may buy more.