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in Business Aviation / Features

Another milestone for Aramco fleet

Posted 19 December 2018 · Add Comment

Aramco Overseas Company has selected Leonardo Helicopters and Milestone Aviation Group, a subsidiary of aviation leasing specialist GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), to renew its medium helicopter fleet. Jon Lake reports.

In July 2018, Leonardo and Milestone signed a contract for the supply of 17 Leonardo AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters (plus four options) to Aramco.
The helicopters will include aircraft in both offshore transport and search-and-rescue configurations.
Aramco expects to take delivery of the aircraft over the next three years, starting this year.
Aramco is one of the largest operators of Leonardo’s helicopters in the Middle East, having operated the AW109 light twin since 2006 and the AW139 intermediate twin-engined helicopter since 2008.
It acquired a fleet of some 17 AW139s (initially 14) to replace the Bell 214STs that had served the company for more than 20 years. They are used primarily to perform offshore transport missions in support of Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas industry.
The AW139 was selected because it offered the right combination of safety, performance, endurance, multi-mission capability, customer comfort and product support. Its outstanding one engine inoperative capabilities, even in hot and high operating conditions, made it ideally suited to Aramco’s operations.
When the aircraft were delivered, the Aramco pilots who flew the helicopters from Italy to Saudi Arabia in a 20-hour, multi-leg flight, praised the “modern technology that not only increases the safety margin by reducing pilot fatigue but also contributes to customers’ egress in emergency situations, as well as their comfort and satisfaction”.
Aramco’s fleet renewal programme, using new AW139s, will ensure that it continues to operate advanced technology helicopters with class-leading performance, reliability, safety, versatility and cabin space. This is according to Gian Piero Cutillo, Leonardo Helicopters’ managing director, who also expressed his delight that Aramco had: “continued to put its trust in the AW139 to meet its helicopter needs”.
More recently, in September 2018, Airbus Helicopters and Milestone signed an agreement to provide five H145 helicopters (previously known as the EC145T2) to Aramco. The aircraft will be delivered over the next 12 months and are being sourced from Milestone’s existing orderbook with Airbus.
They will replace Aramco’s AW109E Power helicopters, seven of which were received, one later being lost in service.
The older aircraft were completed and customized at AgustaWestland’s facility in Philadelphia and were configured with a six-seat convertible utility interior that allows for the carriage of two litters in the emergency medical transport role. They were equipped with emergency floats with integrated life rafts that were specially developed for Aramco, and fitted with the helicopter emergency egress lighting system (HEELS) and a MaxViz EVS1000 enhanced vision system.
The A109’s fully articulated rotor head gives a very smooth ride, and the retractable undercarriage makes it a faster machine, but the H145 is a superb choice for high-intensity operations like offshore oil and gas support.
Compared to the A109, the H145 offers greater cabin space and more seats, and the rear clamshell doors and flat floor confer great versatility and make loading easier. It is often believed to be more rugged, too.
Airbus claims that the H145 has the lowest maintenance costs in its class, and highlights the type’s powerful engines and Helionix digital avionics suite.
Aramco currently has 24 aircraft on lease from Milestone. The company’s relationship with the leasing specialist began in 2016 with the lease of three new AW139s, which represented Aramco’s first helicopter lease transaction.
Milestone is the largest owner or financier of civil Leonardo helicopters in the world, and leased its first AgustaWestland helicopter in 2010. Its fleet will include more than 100 Leonardo helicopters once the Aramco AW139s are delivered.
Milestone supports around 44 customers in more than 30 countries and its helicopter fleet is valued at something in excess of $4.5 billion. The company has a forward order book of firm orders and options with an estimated total value of more than $3 billion.
Aramco’s decision to turn to leased helicopters may, in part, reflect its desire to streamline its operations before a proposed and long-awaited initial public offering.
 

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