Bell Helicopter is working on a support package for the 525 Relentless helicopter that includes aircraft availability guarantees, says Patrick Moulay, vice-president of global sales and marketing.

Guaranteeing aircraft availability rates as part of a power-by-the-hour services package is well-known in the airline industry, but has been absent from the commercial helicopter market.

But that situation is changing with the emergence of large fleets of oil and gas operators requiring reliable access to vertical lift to support offshore drilling platforms and other remote sites.

“More and more they want to go beyond the simple logistics, spare parts requirement,” Moulay says. “They want to move towards availability rates. So now it’s not about the [power-by-the-hour], and you have to deliver spare parts within 48h. It’s about what you do as an OEM to guarantee the availability of the fleet.”

Bell’s deliberations on the 525 follows the 4 March signing of a service agreement between Airbus Helicopters and oil and gas helicopter services operator Bristow Group, which included “airline-style” support agreement that transfers more of the risk for guaranteeing the availability of the fleet to the OEM.

“We are looking at it for the 525 in particular,” Moulay says.

The super-medium-class 525 helicopter is expected to achieve first flight in the next several weeks, launching an at least 18-month certification campaign leading up to entry-into-service in 2017.

The 525 is Bell’s most technically ambitious commercial helicopter development project, with fly-by-wire flight controls, a Garmin G5000 flight deck and seating for as many as 16 passengers.

Although oil and gas orders and deliveries plunged in the first quarter, Bell Helicopter executives interpret that cyclical decline as a positive development for the 525, Moulay says.

Falling oil and gas prices since a year ago have reduced exploration of new drilling fields, forcing oil and gas operators and service providers to defer making order decisions, he says.

If the market rebounds in the next two years, those deferred decisions on new orders will come due just as the 525 becomes available for delivery, he says.