Brazil's TAM Empreendimentos e Participações is negotiating with Petroleum Helicopters the final details of a joint venture helicopter enterprise dedicated to the flourishing Brazilian offshore market.
While details are scant, market sources indicated that the intention is to start operations at the end of this year with three Sikorsky S-76++ helicopters leased from Louisiana-based PHI, although mid-term plans envisage a larger fleet that would include Sikorsky S-92s.
Brazilian offshore operations have been growing at an annual 10% rate over the past five years, with Brazil's state-owned oil company - Petrobras - accounting last year for 65,000 passengers to and from oil rigs. Brazil's leading offshore operator, Líder Aviação, posted revenues of around $339 million in 2009 and those numbers are expected to rise significantly once work on the Pré-Sal oil field begins in earnest.
TEP - the holding company that controls TAM Airlines - is eager to tap a market that is expected to boom over the next few years, with local market observers forecasting that Brazilian offshore operations will double by the end of the next decade.
Although seen as a major departure from its air transport activities, TEP's initiative is spurred not only by the expected growth of the offshore market, but the profit margins that the segment offers. While local air transport carriers can expect a profit of 5%, profit margins in the offshore market can be as high as 20%.
A stumbling block is the lack of qualified helicopter crews, an obstacle that has raised concerns among Brazil's civil aviation authorities. A local source has indicated that TEP is flirting with the idea of establishing a helicopter flight training centre at São Carlos, home for TAM's maintenance centre. Or it could partner an established helicopter school to address its flightcrew requirements.