Latin America has long been a rather generous market for helicopter manufacturers and sellers. Moreover, in the upcoming several years the already healthy demand is expected to increase even further. However, while helicopter manufacturers from all over the world are doing their best to secure their slice of the rising pie, MRO providers are faced with the pressing need to find fast solutions in terms of maintaining the thriving regional rotorcraft fleet.
Recently, the Export-Import Bank of the United States has announced its approval of a $22.4 million loan for the export of AgustaWestland-produced helicopters to Colombia, which is a clear signal that the US-based producers are set to take the maximum advantage of the upcoming market growth. However, it is highly unlikely that the competing Russian Helicopters will give away their current 6% annual business growth in the region easily. While industry experts are getting ready to place their bets on the upcoming race between the American and Russian manufacturers, MRO providers must get busy preparing to meet the upcoming demand for the maintenance of rapidly growing rotorcraft fleet in the region.
Even though the relationship between the US and its neighbours in the South is getting warmer fast, Russian rotorcraft manufacturers have historically held the dominant position in the region. According to the Russian Helicopters’ data, at the start of 2014 there were more than 400 Russian-built machines operating in Latin America. The Russian-produced helicopters run the show in the segment of commercial helicopters with the maximum take-off weight of 10-20 tons as well, accounting for 77% of the regional fleet. They also account for 42% of all military helicopters across Latin America. Moreover, contracts are already signed for 41 additional helicopters to be delivered until 2016.
The main reasons for the ever-growing popularity of the Russian choppers as opposed to the American-made machines include their relatively low price and better suited capabilities for the Latin American terrain. The Mi family’s abilities, for example, are very advantageous, taking into account the natural topographic features of the region. As a result, it boasts a number of advantages when operating over flat to rolling terrain in the mountains and at high amplitude of temperatures. Unsurprisingly such features have been deservedly praised by the partners in such countries as Argentina, Peru and Brazil – countries dominating the order book of Russian Helicopters.
“The current ties with the soviet-built and modern Russian rotorcraft technology have been historically solid in the region and they are sure to continue being close in the near future. As a result, MRO providers in the region already possess some experience of working with the Russian-built machines. This certainly will enable them to minimize the cost of services and training of new technical specialists that will be needed for further fleet expansion. Nonetheless, as almost 50 % of the region’s operators are planning to increase their fleets and the demand for helicopters in the region is expected to register an astonishing CAGR of 14.99% during 2013 – 2023, it seems like MRO centres in Latin America, at least for the time being, will not be able to cope on their own, possibly requiring a helping hand from outside,” explains Anatolij Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota.
Trying to keep up with the demand, American manufacturers as well as Russian Helicopters are busy establishing support centres across Latin America. The latter had already previously operated bases in Mexico and other countries in the region, and last year the company decided to add an extra one in Brazil. Regardless, one of the main issues to overcome for all manufacturers if the expansion is due to continue is the potential lack of qualified maintenance personnel. As the region is expected to require an increasing number of technical personnel to accompany the expansion, over a third of the existing labour force in the field is aged 50 years or more, according to Helicopter Maintenance magazine. With that in mind, the future of local MROs is looking grim, to say the least.
The appetite of Latin America, on the other hand, seems to remain a single unstoppable force. The most recent Honeywell forecast has exposed that the region is to experience a further 34 % sales spike in helicopter purchases over the next half a decade and it will account for almost one third of the global helicopter purchase plans in 2015. As a result, rotorcraft maintenance providers must get ready to deal with the increasing pressure, no matter the origin of helicopters to soon reach the region in great numbers.
“As Latin America seems to be showing no signs of a cease in rotorcraft market expansion, the investment in MRO procedures and professional engineer training will certainly remain the issue under the industry’s microscope. In order to properly maintain the growing number of helicopters and ensure maximum air safety, the region will definitely require all the possible support they can get. Even though manufacturers are trying to provide additional assistance, it seems like the rest is left up to the experienced and certified independent third party MRO providers, which can deal with the additional pressure of added MRO procedures as well as help to supply, train and develop qualified technical personnel to meet the increasing regional demand,” concludes Anatolij Legenzov, the CEO of Helisota.