Promising times are ahead for the VTOL industry.

Perspective is an interesting concept, particularly in aviation. Sitting on the ground, your perspective is local. As you lift off, rising away from the earth, your field of view expands. You see farther in all directions.

At HAI, I have access to substantial amounts of information about our industry, including from OEMs and regulators around the world. However, as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, I enjoy meeting and talking about aviation with people from across our diverse industry.

James A. Viola

During 2021, I visited Sun ’n Fun in Florida, where I spoke with aspiring pilots. At July’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, I met with representatives of the largest companies and saw people flying helicopters they built from kits. In October, I attended the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Las Vegas, where I listened to the concerns of a Grand Canyon tour operator. And in November, I visited the inaugural EUROPEAN ROTORS VTOL Show and Safety Conference, where a sold-out exhibit floor was an indication of a return to normal levels of activity.

One of the most accurate gauges of our industry’s strength is the success of our manufacturers, and from their perspective, too, better times are ahead.

In December, I visited Robinson Helicopter Co. with FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. Robinson reports that in 2021 it sold an average of at least one helicopter each day, with more than 450 confirmed orders. The turbine-powered R66 was the top seller. These numbers are another indication that our industry is ready for takeoff. Company president Kurt Robinson and his team agree, saying they hope to increase production and deliveries in 2022.

Leonardo states that its market is still not back to normal, pointing to a “pandemic plunge” in 2020. However, the company still saw growth in 2021 over the same period in 2020, and Leonardo executives are pleased that the civil helicopter market is reacting better than expected. They forecast a particularly strong recovery in the VIP, air medical, and civil utility markets.

Airbus Helicopters also has seen strong gains, posting a 40% increase in orders in 2021 over 2020. The company recorded strong orders in legacy singles and light-twin helicopters, crediting air medical sales for the boost. CEO Bruno Even points to a stalled offshore market to explain the lower sales of super-medium and super-heavy aircraft.

Both Airbus and Leonardo disclosed that two or three additional years of growth could be required to reach their pre-pandemic production levels.

Bell’s production was mostly flat in 2021, recording deliveries that were only slightly higher than in 2020. Bell’s parent company, Textron, believes 2022 will be good for its commercial helicopter sales but expressed concern that US military sales will drop.

We are at an interesting point in our industry, where our OEMs are building aircraft for today while researching and designing the rotorcraft of the future. Whether that aircraft is a prototype of an advanced air mobility vehicle or a legacy helicopter, our rotorcraft missions will be the same: to safely and efficiently go where other aircraft cannot go and accomplish what other aircraft cannot do. With our OEMs sharing mostly positive returns and projections, I see exciting times ahead for the VTOL industry.

If you think differently, please email me at president@rotor.org. The diversity of our industry is one of our strengths, and I want to hear your perspective.

Author

  • James Viola

    James A. Viola is HAI’s president and CEO. After a career as a US Army aviator, he joined the FAA, where he served as director of the Office of General Aviation Safety Assurance before joining HAI. A dual-rated pilot, Jim holds ATP ratings in both airplanes and helicopters and is a CFII. Jim can be contacted at president@rotor.org.

James Viola

James Viola

James A. Viola is HAI’s president and CEO. After a career as a US Army aviator, he joined the FAA, where he served as director of the Office of General Aviation Safety Assurance before joining HAI. A dual-rated pilot, Jim holds ATP ratings in both airplanes and helicopters and is a CFII. Jim can be contacted at president@rotor.org.

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