Helicopter engine manufacturers Rolls-Royce and Honeywell have taken opposing views of the sector in the next 5-10 years, with Rolls predicting partly sunny skies and Honeywell, partly cloudy. 

In either case, the news is upbeat compared to the woes begetting other industry sectors, particularly the fixed wing aircraft.

Ken Roberts, president of Rolls’ helicopter engine business says the sector “will not escape the impact of the world at large” but that the hit will be “fairly moderate” over the coming years. “We’ll have near term softening followed by growth,” he says.

The outlook is bullish and reminiscent of growth rates of the past few years. Rolls-Royce is expecting 15,800 new turbine helicopters to enter the market over the next decade, valued at $131 billion. Within the total, 6,200 aircraft valued at $104 billion will be sold to the global defence markets while 9,600 helicopters valued at $27 billion will go to commercial and parapublic buyers. The airframes will need an estimated 25,000 engines valued at $12 billion.

Honeywell’s partly cloudy forecast calls for similar delivery levels in 2009 due to healthy backlogs, but a drop-off thereafter based on fewer orders coming in so far this year. “New order intake in 2009 is expected to decline sharply and will not normalize until a sustained global economic recovery begins and additional aircraft financing becomes available,” says Mike Cuff, Honeywell Vice President, Helicopters & Surface Systems, adding that Eurocopter expects its near-term order intake to drop 36%. Bell Helicopter has stated that it had sold only three helicopters in January 2009 compared to 40 in January 2008, says Cuff.

The company’s date largely comes from interviews with helicopter operators, which show that purchase expectations have fallen about 21% globally, measured on the basis of specific new helicopter purchase plans in 2009 over 2008 levels. “Buyer interest declined broadly across regions and model segments and there is every indication that a demand decline is likely to occur in the near future,” says Cuff. “These findings are based on inputs from over 1,000 flight departments.”

Honeywell estimates 3,500 - 4,500 new helicopter deliveries from 2009-2013.

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