Commercial, Personal/Corporate, Products, Services

South America Rises: Oil & Gas Moves Economy

By By Claudio Agostini | March 1, 2012
Send Feedback

Eurocopter’s Helibras subsidiary recently reached an agreement to provide spare parts and support for the Brazilian Armed Forces fleet of 50 EC725s (example shown here). Three have already entered service, with the remaining 47 set for delivery starting this year. Eurocopter

The helicopter transportation business in South America is a highly competitive business like in many other areas throughout the world. But the diversity and varying weight of factors like economic development, geography and geopolitical intra- and extra-regional policies and aspirations of its 13 countries and three territories creates multiple challenges and motivations with mixed success in the short term.

A number of local small/medium companies for international standards and some significant competitors had served these markets for years. The growing economy in some of these countries and the still-called globalization is gradually changing this scenario, requiring companies with more capital investment, working capital, and personnel with more technical and operating/logistical experience, mainly in complex systems like offshore and also onshore operations. As result, mainly in the past 10 years, some large and aggressive foreign companies are entering these markets through partnerships, limited ownership of local companies in line with each country’s regulations and other types of agreements. Recent oil and gas discoveries in many coastal areas are increasing the number of helicopters operating in this region. This situation is particularly noticeable in Brazil, where mainly due to the pre-salt offshore boom, a considerable number of not-available-before heavy helicopters to support the 300-km distant from coast operations are being required.



In Argentina, Helicópteros Marinos—operating since 1978 and associated with French operator Heli-Union since 1983—has much of its operations supporting the oil and gas business with a fleet that includes Eurocopter AS350 B/B2/B3s, AS355 F1/F2s and EC145s, the SA330J Puma and Sikorsky S76A+. Recent discoveries of top-quality onshore shale reserves provides new positive forecast for oil and gas operations. On the Atlantic side of the country the areas around the disputed Malvinas/Falkland Islands that after decades of speculation and recent years of disappointments, is believed to have huge reserves of oil, about 300 miles from the coast. Canadian operator CHC is supposed to have at least two helicopters plus one AS332L2 for logistical support in that area.


The largest operator in Bolivia also had its origins in a company created in France in 1984 that started South American operations as Heliamerica in 1997, covering Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, mainly dedicated to seismic and magnetometry operations. With a current fleet of nine helicopters consisting of a Bell 212 and eight Eurocopter variants—two AS350B2s, four AS350B3s and two AS355s—the operator employs pilots from various nationalities, including France with more than 3,000 hours of experience on rotary aircraft, including over 1,000 hours long line experience.

In the short term, Heliamerica is concentrating its operations and efforts on the Bolivian market, mainly for the oil and gas industry, according to Colin Dunlop, commercial manager. Though this does not rule out a continued presence in Peru and possibly future operations in Colombia and in Brazil. There are signs of renewed activity in Bolivia, with two seismic projects in 2011, and at least three projects in the pipeline for 2012, said President Pierre Galipon, a French-born pilot who lives and flies in Bolivia since its foundation. In 2002 while bringing a helicopter from Canada to Peru, Galipon was forced to land under radio instructions from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) over Colombia’s border near Ecuador, being held for 103 days of captivity in a FARC’s rebel-controlled territory. Fortunately, they were all released and got their helicopter back.

Brazil’s Helipark Taxi Aero recently ordered a multi-role Ka-32A11BC from Russian Helicopters for cargo sling transport and delivery. The helicopter is slated for handover later this year. Russian Helicopters

Brazil: Lider Profile

Lider Taxi Aereo was founded in 1958, based in Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, and currently Lider Aviação operates the largest helicopter fleet in Brazil with more than 60 units. This business segment is the company’s most profitable among its five primary operating units—Helicopter Service, Maintenance, Chartering, Ground Handling and Aircraft Sales.

The helicopter history for Lider starts at the beginning of the 1970s. In 1973, the company won a bid to provide services to Petrobras State Oil & Gas Co. for offshore services along the Brazilian coast and purchased eight Sikorsky S-78Ts.

Currently Lider’s helicopter fleet consists of the Bell 206, 212, 412 and Sikorsky S-76A, S-76C+, S-76C++ and S-92. The introduction of heavy helicopters into its operational portfolio allowed Lider to gain competence and positioning with newer and more sophisticated aircraft for the Brazil’s pre-salt deepwater fields. In 2009, the Houston-based Bristow Group acquired a 42.5-percent interest in Lider, with approximately 20 percent of the voting rights, complying with Brazilian aviation regulations limiting foreign ownership. The agreement also included that for five years, “Bristow will have the right to provide 100 percent of lease requirements from Lider as well as 50 percent of Lider’s total medium and large helicopter requirements that Lider would otherwise fulfill through the purchase or finance lease of helicopters.”

Lider helicopter maintenance/service centers are located at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas Airport for Eurocopter and Bell; Rio de Janeiro at Jacarepagua Airport for Eurocopter, Bell and Sikorsky, as well as composite repairs; Brasilia Airport for Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Bell and paint facilities. With more than 20 fixed-base operators (FBOs) around the country, helicopter bases supporting mainly offshore and onshore operations are located in the following cities: Rio de Janeiro-RJ, Macaé-RJ, Vitória-ES, Salvador-BA, Tefé-AM, Porto Urucu-AM and Itanhaem-SP.

Other business units include Lideravia Insurance, CAE Simuflite’s training programs exclusive Brazilian representative, CT Brasil, a joint venture with Composite Technology Inc. based in Jacarepagua for Bell 204/205/206/407/212,412, Sikorsky S-76 and AgustaWestland AW109 blade repair services. Lider Aviacao, today the largest executive aviation company and helicopter operator in Latin America with more than 2,000 employees, 26 FBOs and a total fleet of more than 90 aircraft, also has various successful internal programs in its portfolio. Some of them, like Lider’s Trainee Program and the Internal Promotion Policy, took Eduardo Vaz—who entered the company as a trainee—to his current post of CEO.

According to the Brazilian Association of Helicopter Pilots (ABRAPHE), the country’s scenario ahead clearly remains positive, favored by local economy development, the huge expansion of offshore operations and two large international events to be held in 2014 (FIFA World Cup) and 2016 (Olympic Games). As a result, all of these will require the expansion and modernization of the helicopter fleet for many services and support activities. Furthermore, new technologies are accessible. The operator’s need for heavier and more equipped aircraft implies directly in the formation/training of more pilots to successfully support the safely growing of the sector. ABRAPHE is engaged to promote actions aimed to the professional development of country’s flight schools and to work with federal civil aviation authorities on a code revision to create a permanent federal program for the professional formation of the aviation workforce, according to ABRAPHE’s President, Cmdr. Rodrigo Duarte.


Trans-Andean Chile’s great geographical and climatic diversity with logistical difficulties requires a strong professional helicopter support services from companies like INAER Helicopter Chile, established in 2006 and one of giant Spanish INAER’s arms in South America. The other arm is located in Peru. The Chilean based fleet comprises three Bell 407s, one Eurocopter AS350B3 and three Bell 212s that are supported annually from Spain by three Kamov KA32A11BCs, one Bell 407 and one Eurocopter AS350B3 during the firefighting season. Firefighting, oil and gas, mining, tourism, forestry, hydroelectric, EMS and other aerial support operations are expanding in Chile.


Colombia’s oil and gas sector has experienced considerable growth during the past few years, becoming an attractive destination encouraging foreign investments and providing better security conditions for operators. Founded in 1999, Aeroregional became Helistar in 2005 with new shareholders. The operator’s current fleet covers 18 helicopters, including a number of Bell 206/212/412s, one Eurocopter EC145, one Mil Mi-8 and one Mil Mi-171—most of them built from 2007 to 2011. Three new EC145 are expected to arrive from Eurocopter Mexico between 2012 and 2013 to support services for local Ecopetrol, one of the four main petroleum companies in Latin America.


Founded in 1994, the largest helicopter operator in Peru, Helisur, has a distinguished characteristic: its whole fleet is Russian helicopters, currently 11 Mi-8 MTVs configured for both internal and external cargo loads, and six Mi-171s. After some years operating Russian-made helicopters, in 1999 the company became UTair’s South American subsidiary, which includes a local maintenance center certified by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant and future expansion into a Mil maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) center for South America as result of Helisur’s planned future operation contracts in countries like Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia. Twenty pilots, 20 copilots and 23 flight engineers comprise the flight team mainly for oil and gas, mining and special cargo operations.

The helicopter business in South America is becoming deeply engaged with the energy/oil and gas markets as new offshore and onshore discoveries in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela are attracting packages from global foreign investors, among them the largest helicopter operators. Most researches on prospective energy markets as the World Energy Outlook shows that oil and gas will remain dominant at least throughout the first half of this century. For instance, in Brazil current known reserves are projected to be available for the next 15 to 35 years, depending mainly on the extraction and production (E&P) policies. Even with different scenarios—technological, political/strategic and others—helicopters will remain an important part of the process.

For additional information about operators in South America, visit

Receive the latest rotorcraft news right to your inbox