Kawasaki BK117 helicopter
The increasing demand for helicopters in the Asia-Pacific region looks set to continue due to an overall global demand for helicopters and despite some uncertainties surrounding the offshore Oil & Gas sector.

According to Flightglobal’s Fleets Analyzer, at the end of 2015, 11,611 helicopters were in service with Asia-Pacific operators in civilian, governmental and military roles. This accounts for 21% of the global in-service helicopter fleet, with Asia-Pacific now ranked third behind North America and Europe in terms of fleet size.

A little over half of the fleet in Asia-Pacific is in use with civil and governmental operators, with the remaining operating in military roles. Turbine powered helicopters account for 82% of the fleet.

The Asia-Pacific helicopter total in-service fleet has grown by 45% since 2005, with year-on-year growth averaging 3.6%. In contrast, the largest helicopter market – North America – recorded overall growth of only 13.2% over the past 10 years, with CAGR of 1.3%.

Almost three-quarters of the helicopter fleet is based in four countries – Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China – with 78% of those units being one of three manufacturers: Robinson, Airbus Helicopters or Bell Helicopter.


Varied use

Of the 6,145 helicopters in service in civil and governmental roles, one-quarter (1,527) are used in the utility/multi-role sector, with another 18% (1,110) for business/corporate/executive use. Private use and passenger helicopters account for 9% each of the Asia-Pacific helicopter fleet, while 7% of the fleet is used in offshore oil & gas support missions. The training fleet accounts for 6%.

Approximately 5% operate in police/law enforcement roles, 4% in search & rescue (SAR)/coast guard configurations and 3% in the associated air ambulance/EMS roles. The remaining 14% of the fleet is in a variety of roles including agricultural, fire-fighting, news & media, sightseeing, surveying & pipeline inspection.


Offshore activities

Traditionally, offshore Oil & Gas service providers have been one of the main growth drivers for the region. However, the downturn in oil prices continues to have a significant impact, resulting in zero growth, and a significant drop in overall utilization of the existing offshore fleet. Nearly a third of the existing fleet was reported as likely to be idle or preparing for another mission role at year end.


The four top countries

Market leader Australia had a 31% share of the Asia-Pacific fleet in 2015 with 1,874 helicopters in service. Particularly popular are helicopters for sightseeing, firefighting and agricultural use. Its neighbor New Zealand has 792 helicopters in service (13% market share), which are greatly used for search & rescue, agricultural, and flight training. In Japan the fleet of 780 has been a fairly constant number in recent years. It’s a different situation in China, where the gradual relaxation of airspace regulations combined with increasing government support has seen the fleet grow 390% between 2005 and 2015 to its current size of 735 machines.


Future prospects

Flightglobal’s Ascend consultancy forecasts that Asia-Pacific’s share of commercial helicopter deliveries will rise to 37% in 2025 from 26% in 2015. Helicopters earmarked for business/private use look set to dominate, with 33% of deliveries, followed by utility/multi-role helicopters with 22%, and offshore support with 13%.

China is expected to continue to lead the growth, although the potential and benefits of helicopter usage in China can only be realized if airspace restrictions and infrastructure development keep pace. Other emerging markets such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Kazakhstan are also destined to contribute to the growing Asia-Pacific helicopter market.

The industry does however face specific challenges. The falling oil price continues to affect the offshore Oil & Gas support market. Other challenges include regulatory constraints, time consuming flight approvals, airspace restrictions, lack of government support, and insufficient infrastructure.


Composites in Helicopters

Composites in helicopter rotors improve aerodynamic geometry and tuning. They display good damage tolerance and offer potential cost advantages. The favorable structural properties of the mostly fiberglass foils allow for increased lift and speed. Fatigue characteristics of the composite blade are considerably better than their aluminum counterparts which fail near 40,000 cycles compared to the composite blade which can exceed 500,000 cycles without failure. The extreme vibratory environment in which helicopters operate makes composites attractive for structural components.

In summary, the relationship between helicopter manufacturing and the composites industry looks set to continue, with Asia-Pacific maintaining strong growth.


Written by Denzil Walton

Denzil Walton is a technical copywriter, editor and conference reporter. He has over 30 years’ experience writing on a variety of industrial and high-tech topics.


Return to JEC Asia Business Review #6


To get more information on this sector, meet the JEC Group at Rotorcraft Asia 2017 which takes place at the Changi Exhibition Centre in Singapore, April 18-20. 

  • Christian Strassburger - Director of JEC Asia - and his team would be delighted to welcome you on booth # H21
  • Participate to the JEC Group Conference: “Global Vision of Composites in the Helicopter Sector” April 19, 3:00pm to 5:00pm, Function Room #4