The current civil rotorcraft fleet in Russia is mostly comprised of locally-made machines which account for 76% of all the registered helicopters in the region. Most of them are different modifications of the Mi-8s. Almost 1200 machines of the type were operated in the region in 2013. Still, according to various statistical data, during the last five years the Russian rotorcraft park has increased by 355 units, 287 of which are Western-made. Such substantial growth of the foreign helicopter fleet in the country inevitably implies changes in the comprehensive support system, especially as concerns the demand for appropriate equipment and maintenance services.
The rotorcraft market in many countries has been steadily growing for quite some time now, and Russia is no exception. This concerns both, civil and military aviation. The trend is likely to continue, as the demand for various rotary wing products is as high as ever. Since 2004 the manufacturing rates of helicopters in the country have increased 3.5 times, making it the most rapidly expanding industry in the region. Russian Helicopters, the sole regional rotorcraft producer, built 303 machines in 2013 alone, 275 of which have already been delivered to customers. Moreover, according to its official statement, the company is already fully booked with orders for 2014.
The local manufacturer does not only continue to produce the older yet still popular models, but is also constantly developing new products. Recently the company has accelerated the process of introducing such new helicopter types as Ka-62, Mi-38 and Mi-171A2 and signed several contracts with foreign players with regard to the development of new products and relevant maintenance services. However, it doesn’t mean that the local manufacturer is subject to no competition.
“For a long time the demand for rotorcraft in Russia was mostly being met with the help of locally-developed products. This is easily explained by the prevalence of Soviet-era products within the region, as well as the scope of local capabilities. However, the last year in Russia was marked by a record number of foreign product deliveries. The country welcomed more than 140 Western-made rotorcraft deliveries, i.e. 50% more than in 2012. As a result, in the beginning of 2014 the overall number of foreign helicopters in the region reached about 590 units, which is almost twice as much as in 2009,” shares Anatolij Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota.
The absolute leader among the foreign players in the market is Robinson Helicopter Company. In 2013 the local fleet was supplemented with 86 Robinson machines, which accounted for almost 60% of all the foreign-made deliveries. The growing demand for these machines in the region (in 2013 Russia received 24 more Robinson helicopters than in 2011-2012) is mainly linked with the increasing popularity of the new R66 model, which is anything but unexpected. Despite the fact that the model was approved for operations within Russia only in March 2013, there had already been 10 machines of the type in the local fleet a year before (2012). As a result, in 2013 almost 56% of all Robinson deliveries to the region were R66 machines.
The renewed demand prompted the manufacturer to rehire more than 250 employees last year. Robinson says it is likely to hire another 250 employees or even more this year, in large part to handle the increased labour needs for building the R66 cabin.
“The change in the delivery trends in Russia is a definite indicator that the light aviation market is on the rebound within the region. Despite the fact that the local fleet is still dominated by heavy helicopters, the light and medium-weight class models are becoming increasingly popular and are set to take the lead in the nearest future. The fact that during the last five years the share of these types in Russia increased by almost 170% (while the heavy segment grew as little as 3%) clearly shows that this is easily the most important change in the local fleet structure,” shares Anatolij Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota.
The aforementioned changes in demand can be attributed to the stronger dependency on helicopters for the use in offshore oil and gas operations, as well as emergency medical services. This is also a global trend. However, according to the executive, the on-going shift in type popularity in balance between locally-made and foreign machines will change the demand for maintenance support accordingly.
“Operators of these newly-introduced machines will need to be provided with the appropriate maintenance support. Of course, there are certain local capabilities which can be used to facilitate the delivery of these services. However, the rapid growth of Western-made fleet might just become too much for the local providers to handle. In addition, with the increasing popularity of rotorcraft use in corporate and private air travel in mind (followed by the demand for refurbishment and modernization), the local providers will probably need all the help they can get. This includes outsourcing some of the work to their European colleagues, as well as training of the qualified personnel,” concludes the CEO of Helisota.