Kieran Daly/LONDON

A UK COMPANY is setting up a fractional-ownership scheme for helicopters, which it claims can reduce the total cost of rotary-wing ownership by as much as 87%.

Privately owned Heli-Network, trading as First Heli-Network (FHN), envisages operating as many as 14 machines within two years and expects to order its first machines in "four to six weeks". Orders will be placed as shares are secured.

Co-proprietor and managing director Tony Easton, formerly of Allan Mann Aviation and FR Aviation, reports enthusiastic interest and is offering shares in: Eurocopter AS.355N Ecureuil 2s, McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems MD Explorers and MD520Ns, and Bell Helicopter Textron 206B-3 JetRangers. The first types to be ordered are likely to be JetRangers and Ecureuils.

The company will be based with its major maintenance function at the Royal Navy base at Portland, Dorset, which is scheduled for closure, and will have a marketing and helicopter base at Farnborough.

It plans more sites in Belfast, the Channel Islands, Dublin, Glasgow, the Isle of Man and Manchester, with a separate franchise in France possibly to follow.

The scheme offers one-fifth shares in the twins and six to eight shares in each single. It differs in various aspects from the executive-jet networks which have emerged in the UK and USA over the last two years.

Shareholders initially have to provide their share of the capital-cost of the machine and simultaneously contract with FHN to provide five years of management services. From then on, they pay an unvarying monthly share of fixed costs and whatever hourly direct costs incurred by their aircraft use.

Unlike the jet schemes, FHN does not guarantee availability, but provides the helicopter, maintained and certificated to public-transport standards, with a pilot, on a "first-come first-served" basis. Share owners have to use FHN's pilots and also allow their machines, when they are not required, to be used by other FHN syndicates, if needed.

Easton says that the company tries to put compatible users together, but requires minimum use of 150-175h a year. It encourages higher use than that, but imposes weekly and monthly limits. Easton says that the high cost of conventional ownership is largely because of executive helicopters' low utilisation rates - typically only 250-450h a year.

After five years, the contract expires and FHN sells the helicopter. Share-owners can either drop out, sharing in a previously guaranteed residual value, or use the proceeds to acquire another machine with a new contract.

Source: Flight International