Saudi Arabia’s The Helicopter Company (THC) will not grow too large, too soon, its chief executive insists, despite an orderbook that has ballooned with the signature of agreements for almost 300 new helicopters to be delivered by the end of the decade.

THC disclosed at the Heli-Expo show on 27 February separate deals with Airbus and Leonardo comprising a mixture of firm orders for short-term delivery and more tentative framework agreements to meet its fleet needs over the longer term.

THC H145 H125-c-Airbus Helicopters

Source: Airbus Helicopters

Latest agreement includes firm orders for more H145s and H125s

Those firm orders were for 10 Airbus Helicopters H125s and eight H145s, plus 20 AW139 intermediate-twins from Leonardo, an agreement first flagged at last year’s show.

But Arnaud Martinez, THC chief executive, says that while he can “see the need to double the fleet”, the company’s goal is not growth for growth’s sake.

“We will confirm and onboard only the helicopters that the Kingdom needs,” he says. “We don’t buy helicopters just for the sake of buying helicopters.”

Although he says THC has “only scratched the surface” of Saudi Arabia’s domestic helicopter requirements – whether for tourism, transport or emergency medical services – that market is not infinite, which will force the company to look outside the Kingdom for additional opportunities.

“At some stage we will reach a cap and sooner or later the ambition is to go to the international market.”

Established just five years ago through Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative and funded by its Public Investment Fund (PIF), THC already boasts a 48-strong fleet.

Prior to the Heli-Expo announcement it already had commitments for 42 helicopters from Airbus – a mixture of H125s, H145s and H160s – with the latest deal, converting options from an earlier contract, taking the firm order total to 60 units, of which 25 have already been delivered.

THC’s framework agreement for 120 helicopters covers undisclosed rotorcraft types across Airbus’s range, offering future order flexibility.

Similarly, the 130-unit framework agreement with Leonardo includes a mix of aircraft, including AW109s, AW169s, AW139s and AW189Ks – the Safran Helicopters Engines Aneto-1K-powered variant of the super-medium-twin designed for hot and high operations.

Both framework agreements specify delivery positions between five and seven years away.

Despite the eye-catching totals, Martinez points out that many of the future deliveries will be for replacement rather than expansion as its existing fleet reaches around eight years old.

At that point, they will be sold to sister leasing and helicopter distributor Rotortrade, a Singapore business acquired by the PIF in 2023.

That relationship is “really crucial”, says Martinez, allowing THC to “exit from its existing fleet any aircraft at any point”, whether due to the end of a contract or to “onboard new aircraft”.

Martinez says the two European manufacturers were selected following a tender process that spelled out product and delivery requirements, plus a willingness to localise operations such as training and maintenance. In addition, having two airframers vying for business ensures THC “has leverage” in its negotiations, he adds.

“The more we grow the more strategically it makes sense to keep these two OEMs aligned with us,” says Martinez.