Lease Corporation International (LCI, Booth C3654) has placed an Airbus Helicopters H175 with CHC, marking the second of the super medium twins that the operator has obtained from LCI. It is expected to enter service in December, a year after CHC's first H175, and will support the operator’s UK business.
Founded in 2004, LCI and its helicopter portfolio currently concentrates solely on medium and super-medium types, totaling 42 with an average age of three years, all but one purchased new from the manufacturer. The Libra Group subsidiary has approximately $750 million of helicopter assets in service and on order.
“We are what I call a technical lessor,” explained Crispin Maunder, LCI’s executive chairman. “We pride ourselves in knowing what it is that we’re leasing, what it can do, how it works and what the technical qualities of the aircraft are. We actually talk to the manufacturers and tell them what we need. Even if they haven’t got it spec themselves, we’ll say this is a capability we want, build it in, we’ll pay for it extra.”
The company’s leased helicopters are used in a variety of missions including EMS, which is 50 percent of the fleet; search and rescue; offshore wind; utility and training; pilot transfers; and offshore oil-and-gas. According to Maunder, its exposure to the latter constitutes only around 30 percent of its portfolio.
“The oil-and-gas sector has obviously been through really rough times,” he told AIN. "We’ve had three body blows: the oil price collapse, the [Airbus] H225 incident, and then the CHC Chapter 11, which didn’t exactly affect us that much.” While LCI did have some helicopters with CHC, Maunder noted, those were under structured financing lease, which left the main equity burden to the operator.
As the company does not participate in the heavy helicopter market, its oil-and-gas demand for the Leonardo AW139 and AW189 comes primarily from shorter routes off shore in places such as Australia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Gulf of Mexico, Africa, and South America, rather than the longer legs required for North Sea operations. The H175 and AW189 are starting to make inroads in that region as well, said Maunder, who has three decades of experience in the aircraft leasing sector.
He believes the oil and gas market is entering into a slow recovery mode, but expressed chagrin over the lingering uncertainty as oil companies issue, change, and pull tenders. “Quite often these tenders require the delivery of new helicopters, and we have the order books. The lessees—the operators—are not going to commit until they know they’ve got the contract, and it’s frustrating everyone at the moment.”
Another area where LCI is seeing growth is in the offshore wind segment, which is especially suited to medium helicopters such as the AW139, AW169, and Airbus H145. While offshore oil-and-gas is primarily transport between the land base and the rig, wind operation requires transport from the land to the accommodation barge, and from the barge to the individual turbines for maintenance—an activity that involves lowering the work crews to the service platform on the back of the wind turbine itself and retrieving them later.
Like others, Maunder views the EMS market in China as a great opportunity. “You haven’t even skimmed the market there yet,” he noted. “AW139s and AW119s are going into China in a big way, and we are planning to be part of that as well.”