A new rotorcraft lessor has launched, targeting the offshore, SAR, EMS and government markets, and already boasts an orderbook of 50 Airbus Helicopters H160s, with the promise of more deals to come.

Dublin-based GD Helicopter Finance is owned by Peter Jiang – founder and chairman of Chinese lessor GDAT – and will be led by CEO Michael York, who most recently served as joint head of commercial for fellow rotary-wing lessor Milestone Aviation.

Airbus Helicopters H160

Source: Airbus Helicopters

Lessor launches with orderbook of 50 H160s

York says the new company aims to have around €1 billion ($1.06 billion) of assets under management within 10 years as it charts an aggressive growth path based on the core types of Airbus Helicopters H160 and H175, plus the Leonardo Helicopters AW139 and AW189.

GDAT in April 2023 placed a firm order for 50 H160s, a commitment which will be novated across to GD Helicopter Finance. A financing agreement for three factory-new AW189s that deliver this year, and several other deals in progress, will also move across.

An additional large order for an undisclosed super-medium type will also be finalised in the “near-term” the lessor says.

Although the 50-unit headline figure is eye-catching, York is at pains to stress that the helicopters will only arrive at a rate of around five per year, playing down suggestions of a return to the speculative orders placed in the early part of the last decade.

“Capital discipline is important for the helicopter industry, but also important is the strong market demand and near-term need for sufficient numbers of newest technology, efficient, cost-effective, multi-mission helicopters to replace ageing offshore assets.

“Our culture will be absolutely customer- and relationship-focused, making it always about their needs, so if we turn up with capital and helicopters, and we are flexible, solutions-orientated, and nice to do business with, we’ll find a home for the helicopters,” he says. “It is about replacing the existing fleet in an orderly manner – there’s nothing irresponsible about it.”

GD Helicopter Finance will target the natural replacement need for ageing medium and heavy helicopters, notably the Sikorsky S-92, many of which will begin to reach retirement age in the coming years.

“In the next eight years around 100 S-92s will just age out – the market needs new finance and new helicopters.”

While there have been some recent commitments for offshore-roled super-medium helicopters, York believes the industry is up to 60 orders short of the total required in that weight category to meet the requirement for heavy helicopter replacement over the next decade. Additionally, “significant replacement demand in the medium space” is also looming, he says.

Funding for GD Helicopter Finance is being provided by Jiang, in partnership with Chinese investors and Chinese banks.