* Demand seen growing for helicopter transport
* Opportunities identified in oil and gas market
By Maria Sheahan
PARIS, June 20 Companies like Eurocopter
and Sikorsky are making their helicopters faster,
bigger and more comfortable to attract more customers from the
offshore oil and gas industry to generate sales as military
Oil companies already use helicopters to ferry workers to
and from offshore rigs. These choppers may rack up 1,500 hours
of flight time every year, much more than corporate or even
More than 62 million passengers flew to and from offshore
installations in the British North Sea by helicopter between
1976 and 2012, according to the UK's Civil Aviation Authority.
Demand is likely to increase, with JP Morgan estimating
investments in offshore oil drilling will grow by just over 8
percent a year on average through 2020. Mining operations also
use helicopters extensively to reach sites.
"The oil and gas market is really where the opportunity
seems to be right now," said Jean Lydon-Rodgers, president of GE
Aviation's military business.
In 2011, 70 percent of GE's rotorcraft engine sales were to
U.S. and foreign military forces. By 2016, that figure will
shrink to only 30 percent, with commercial uses and especially
the oil and gas sector accounting for the rest.
"You're going to see this enormous shift," she said, adding
overall sales would remain stable at about 800 engines a year.
Oil majors like BP spend tens of millions of pounds
on helicopter flights every year, which they rent from operators
such as Bond Offshore or Bristow at prices around 4,000 pounds
($6,270) to 4,500 pounds per hour.
"Helicopters are critical to our operations here in the
North Sea, and we use them to transport hundreds of offshore
workers every week," a BP spokeswoman said.
Helicopter makers are reacting to the expected growth by
launching new models tailored for the oil and gas sector.
Eurocopter, whose large EC225 is already a standard among
offshore helicopter operators, asked some of its customers to
provide input for the design of its new EC175, which it hopes to
start delivering early next year.
"They said they spend so much time in the helicopter, they
want, for instance, big windows and comfortable seats,"
Dominique Maudet, Eurocopter's executive vice-president of
global business and services, said at the Paris Airshow.
"For that industry, the helicopter is a shuttle, it is like
a bus," Maudet said.
The oil and gas sector accounted for about 30 percent of
Eurocopter's 2012 deliveries to the civil and "parapublic"
sectors that include law enforcement and emergency medical
services. Military makes up about half the firm's business.
Other demands of the oil and gas industry include flight
speed, availability of services and spare parts, safety features
and the ability to fly long ranges as oil rigs are increasingly
set up in deep water far from shore.
"A lot of innovation is going on," said Tom Captain, global
aerospace & defence sector leader, at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
Eurocopter's X3 - or "X cubed" - high-speed helicopter could
some day be a strong contender for oil and gas companies seeking
faster travel. It can fly and descend at 50 percent higher
speeds than conventional helicopters but has a cost of operation
that is only 25 percent higher.
Its new EC175 will compete with Finmeccanica unit
AgustaWestland's AW139 and Russian Helicopters' new KA-62, which
the state-controlled Russian company was showcasing in Paris.
Russian Helicopters has already won an order for seven
KA-62s from an operator that services Petroleo Brasileiro,
Brazil's state-run oil company, with an option for seven more.
"Our clear vision is that this helicopter will be in great
demand in other regions of the world as well, such as the Far
East," Chief Executive Dmitry Petrov said.
Russian Helicopters aims to boost its civil business's share
of group sales to 50 percent in the medium term thanks to strong
demand from the oil & gas industry, he said.
Another rival, United Technologies unit Sikorsky,
announced several new orders this week, including a contract
with China's CITIC Offshore Helicopter Co (COHC) for two S-92
helicopters, a competitor to Eurocopter's EC225.
Sikorsky hopes the deal can break Eurocopter's dominance of
the lucrative and rapidly growing Chinese market for offshore
The offshore business "has really been heating up for us in
the last couple of years," said Sikorsky President Mick Maurer.
Eurocopter suffered a setback last year after two emergency
North Sea ditchings rattled the oil sector's confidence in the
EC225, or Superpuma, and grounded parts of the fleet. It has
said the first of those helicopters should start flying again a
few weeks from now.