Helicopter activity at November’s Dubai Airshow may not have had the drama of the multi-billion dollar orders for Boeing and Airbus jetliners, but it did prove that Middle East helicopter operations are still a growth industry. While AgustaWestland signed orders for a total of 23 new AW169s and AW189s and Bell locked in an order for its new 412EPI, of note was the signing of contracts for maintenance support of current and future helicopters operating in the Gulf states. Helicopters in the Gulf region actually came of age in the early 1970s following the discovery of oil in the 1960s. By the late 1970s there were three major operators – Abu Dhabi Aviation, Gulf Helicopters and AeroGulf. General maintenance was done in-house, with major component MRO work normally sent either to Europe or Singapore and the U.S. major overhaul work went back to the OEMs.
They also did some third-party work; but with very few other operators, that was primarily for military and paramilitary organizations.
By the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the oil fields were well established and the operators started looking for other markets—signing contracts far afield while opening markets at home, ranging from tourism and charter work to real estate development and movie making. And MRO capabilities started to grow … specifically in the niche market. One of the first to serve this market was Hawker Pacific, the local representative for Bell Helicopter. The two companies formed a joint venture, RBI Hawker, in 2005 to repair rotor blades. It is a Bell Customer Support Facility, as well as authorized to service AW139 and A109/119 series blades. Hawker Pacific has also grown into a Part 21 design organization to provide repair, design and installation services for a range of components including GPUs, hydraulics, avionics and ground equipment such as tow bars, jacks and oxygen carts.
In September, Gulf Helicopters and Quality Aviation Instruments (QAI) formed a joint venture for a component repair station in Doha, Qatar. The agreement covers component repairs of accessories, avionics and instruments, and will focus on repairs for Bell, Eurocopter and AgustaWestland medium and light helicopters, the companies said.
While the operators traditionally conduct their own in-house maintenance, they are also signing support agreements with the OEMs for the third-party work. Abu Dhabi-based Falcon Aviation Services renewed a contract with Eurocopter which “will ensure the sustainment of top-level maintenance services within Eurocopter’s global support network … and enhance both partners’ capability to serve the commercial and parapublic helicopter sectors throughout the UAE,” the companies said.
Eurocopter also renewed a support agreement with Global Aerospace Logistics (GAL). Also based in Abu Dhabi, GAL is a provider of government and defense aerospace services, providing “routine and urgent customer support services” for the UAE Joint Aviation Command.
Abu Dhabi Aviation, largest of the Middle East helicopter operators, already has a two-year-old joint venture maintenance program with AgustaWestland in place for helicopter repair and overhaul, modifications and upgrades, as well as the sale of spare parts and accessories. The joint venture is AgustaWestland Aviation Services (AWAS). ADA has been an AgustaWestland authorized service center since 2005.
Primarily designed to provide MRO for the numerous AW139s operating in the Gulf States, both military and civil, the joint venture will support the AW169s and AW189s now being ordered in Middle East. ADA holds a 70 percent stake in the company while AgustaWestland holds the remaining 30. The spare parts and logistics facility is located in the Abu Dhabi International Airport Free Zone. In December, AWAS added the capability to conduct repair and overhaul of floats and rafts for AgustaWestland helicopters.
MD Helicopters signed an agreement with Dubai-based Quest Aviation Solutions (QAS) to handle its helicopters in the UAE, to include distribution and support, according to Perry Orr, MD’s director for Middle East, Africa and India. Under the deal, the operator’s in-house engineers will provide future maintenance for MD helicopters, with initial training provided under contract by QAS. Under terms of the agreement, instructors from Quest, supported by MD, will go into the operator’s facilities for six months to provide required maintenance training, noted Mike Creed, commercial and deputy project director for Quest.