Sikorsky is exploring a significant expansion of its helicopter fractional ownership programme by taking the offer to international customers using a franchise business model.

While the market for fractional ownership in the business jet market has matured and expanded rapidly in the past decade. attempts to recreate that success in the helicopter sector have proved a hard sell.

Sikorsky is among the few helicopter companies to embrace the concept and its 12-year-old Sikorsky Shares programme has stood the test of time without ever expanding beyond the confines of the Northeast US.

All that could be about to change if studies into the franchise idea become reality. Marc Poland, Sikorsky VP commercial programmes, says geographical expansion and therefore accessibility for the customer is key: “We believe we have broken the code in this area,” he says. “It has been a long process but we continue to see helicopter fractional ownership as an important part of our overall strategy and we’re pretty good at it. The question has been how to make the business model work on a larger scale.”

Sikorsky Shares currently operates using S-76 aircraft in the fractional stronghold of New York City and also Philadelphia. If Sikorsky’s expansion plans go ahead key strategic cities including London, Paris, Tokyo and a number of Middle East cities could soon offer customers the chance to buy flight time on board helicopters. Additional US cities, such as Los Angeles, would also be included in the expansion.

 Sikorsky S-76

“London is definitely at the head of the list,” says Poland. “It has the infrastructure and we believe the demand is there.” So, how would Sikorsky oversee the start-up and continued operation of these overseas fractional programmes? “We don’t look at it that way,” Poland explains. “Our vision is to work with selected partners who will likely already have established charter operations in place. We wouldn’t need to have a corporate office, but rather we would collectively grow the operation.”

Sikorsky sees the international dimension to fractional ownership as crucial in the helicopter field. “From a customer perspective, we know that the client wants to be able to access an aircraft regardless of where he is. This is where we see the franchise model working,” says Poland. “We have seen it in other industries such as the leisure and fitness industry where gym membership can be used while customers are travelling to multiple cities around the world. We need to be able to offer the same flexibility to helicopter fractional customers.”

Poland says the expansion could happen in the near future, with the first alliance possibly being formed this year, but he accepts there are other factors which could limit the pace of growth. The natural limitation of helicopters in terms of range has been a factor to date as has access to heliports. “If a customer has to drive an hour out of the city to reach the heliport, then he will find another mode of transport. Convenience is everything.”

Source: Flight International