How VIP helicopter market growth in Toronto reflects wider trend

On Might 7 and 8, National Helicopters, a utility operator and training faculty based mostly on the northern fringe of the Higher Toronto Area (GTA) in Kleinburg, Ontario, performed host to a VIP-configured Bell 505 Jet Ranger X. The plane, visiting from the Bell facility in Mirabel, Quebec, was there to carry out demo flights for over a dozen potential personal clients in the area.

While the demonstration was, in relative terms, quite small, organizer Dan Munro, president of Nationwide Helicopters, stated the curiosity it generated was illustrative of a rising company market in the region — and a want for house owners to upgrade to newer know-how in the turbine market.

Most company helicopter use in the GTA is to get executives to and from leisure actions, quite than between meetings. Mike Reyno Photograph

“The majority of these customers currently operate their own helicopters, which range from the [Robinson] R22, R44, and R66, to the Bell 47 and Bell 206 JetRanger,” he stated.

At just over $1 million for a primary plane, Bell has priced the 505 to compete immediately towards the Robinson R66 Turbine, which has been a serious success for Robinson because it debuted on the market in 2010. Bell has now delivered over 150 505s, with the personal market proving a rich source of orders.

Munro joined one of the demo flights, and stated he had been impressed with the 505’s energy and the visibility from inside the cockpit.

“When I flew it, we had half a tank of fuel, myself, and four passengers — and we just basically performed a vertical takeoff from the facility,” he stated. “Everybody was very impressed with the [505’s] power and the simplicity of operation.”

Among these participating in the flights have been several clients who’re utilizing their present aircraft to help their work in the newly-legalized marijuana business. “The base of the aviation business [in the GTA] is certainly changing,” stated Munro. “A significant number of our corporate charters last summer were for the marijuana grow-op industry.”

Within this new business, the aircraft are used for flying buyers out to the varied marijuana farms and amenities which have sprouted up throughout the Southwestern Ontario countryside. For these charter flights, Nationwide is usually asked to make use of its corporate Bell 430 or Leonardo AW109.

“These people are legitimate customers and they seem to have some cashflow available to put into these helicopters,” stated Munro. “It’s already huge [business] — people have no idea. A couple of former students manufacture the growing equipment for these grow ops — the watering system and the ultraviolet lighting systems — and they were telling me they can’t keep up with the demand. The requirement for growing equipment is just unbelievable. It’s become a real part of our agriculture industry.”

A VIP Sikorsky S-76D, operated by Fig Air, takes off from a personal helipad at a luxurious cottage north of Toronto. Mike Reyno Photograph

Using the plane for business, fairly than as a way to travel between work and a vacation property, is mirrored in the wider company market in the area, Munro added — in addition to a move for many to purchase their very own helicopter moderately than merely chartering one. This has resulted in a growth in third-party upkeep work for corporations like Nationwide.

“Business has probably doubled here in the last eight years as far as third party maintenance is concerned,” stated Munro. Nationwide retains a few dozen buyer plane in its hangar, and helps a fleet of about 24, together with its personal.

Despite the growth in company ownership, there’s still a sufficiently excessive demand for company constitution — to take shoppers golfing, to their cottages, to weddings or conferences — that Nationwide has largely moved away from the overall utility work that many Canadian operators have built their companies round to give attention to it.

Managing the company fleet

Dave Tommasini, president and proprietor at 4 Seasons Aviation, stated he has observed an identical trend in terms of an increase in the quantity of corporate administration work out there. 4 Seasons has offered each corporate administration and constitution through the years, flying or managing varieties including the Airbus AS350/H125 AStar, AS355 TwinStar, Leonardo AW109 and AW119, Sikorsky S-76, and Bell 429.

“Over the last five years or so, more and more corporate customers have decided to buy their own ships, and then get us, or operators like us, to fly them around and manage them,” he informed Vertical. “They want to have an aircraft at their disposal to fit their mission profiles — if they’re going up to the cottage, or if they’ve got business opportunities that they need to use it for.”

Tommasini stated there has historically been a heavy move of charter aircraft between Toronto and “Cottage Country” in the Muskoka region, a 30- to 40-minute flight north of the town. Flying avoids a packed highway that comes to a standstill round summer time weekends.

A corporate Bell 429 flies over downtown Toronto, with the long-lasting CN Tower behind it. Mike Reyno Photograph

Most of these business-to-personal flights are more widespread in the area, stated Tommasini, fairly than aircraft getting used to travel between meetings, as may be the case in the Northeastern U.S. “Increased development of helicopter-supportive infrastructure would probably encourage more corporate use of helicopters within the Toronto area [itself],” he stated.

4 Seasons’ corporate administration work is offered in collaboration with Heli-Lynx, a completion and maintenance, repair and overhaul firm based mostly in Stoney Creek, Ontario.

“We’re working with Four Seasons Aviation and HelicoStore in Quebec to try to promote helicopters in general in the Greater Toronto Area, and expose helicopters to people who otherwise haven’t thought about how this mode of travel could enhance their life,” stated Heli-Lynx co-owner Rob Tyler.

Along with the maintenance offered for corporate clients as a part of the administration program, Heli-Lynx has additionally targeted its completion work on the corporate market. The company lately delivered a high-level VIP H125 completion to a personal customer from Texas, and Tyler stated such tasks represented an enormous growth alternative.

“That’s the direction of the custom VIP ships that we want to see, we want to produce, maintain and support; we want to promote helicopters for the private owners,” he stated.

Alongside the same vein, the corporate is rebooting its “FX” program (see p.30), which provides the AS350/H125 new electrical techniques and a new Honeywell LTS 101-series engine, with corporate clients primarily the goal. Changing the AStar’s present Safran Arriel engine aims to offer longer durations between overhauls, because the LTS 101 has no calendar restrict. Heli-Lynx believes this holds nice attraction to house owners who aren’t flying sufficient to get the complete value from a time-limited engine.

A transfer to the mediums

Hoss Golanbari, vice-president of EuroTec Canada — a helicopter gross sales, help and completion middle based mostly close to Hamilton, Ontario — stated that while the market in Southwestern Ontario has undoubtedly grown over the previous few years, it’s still comparatively small compared to using personal plane in Quebec.

EuroTec Canada Just lately accomplished this VIP Airbus H130 for a personal buyer. The corporate additionally manages the aircraft. EuroTec Canada Photograph

“We currently manage and maintain several aircraft for corporate and private owners here in the Toronto region,” stated Golanbari. “The difference between Quebec and Ontario is that the private owners in Quebec use the aircraft primarily for travel to and from private hunting and fishing lodges in remote areas in the province, while those in Ontario use the helicopter largely for corporate use and to avoid the traffic going to and from cottage country in the summer time.”

Golanbari stated his shoppers sometimes start with a single-engine helicopter, before shifting onto a light-weight twin or heavier plane.

“Over the past few years, the heavier cabin class twins like the Sikorsky S-76 have been a very good option for some of our corporate clients, who choose the initial lower acquisition offset by the slightly higher maintenance, fuel and insurance costs,” he stated.

Quite a few personal S-76s have just lately arrived in the GTA, together with a VIP S-76D operated by Fig Air. That aircraft was the first of the sort to enter service in Canada, and has been used solely for company constitution work.

Fig Air, which launched in 2015 at Toronto Pearson International Airport, also owns a Bell 206L LongRanger and manages a Sikorsky S-76C++ for a shopper.

“We don’t really advertise — we’re kind of a low-profile operation — but word seems to get around,” stated Dean Fex, the company’s operations manager. “We have a steady stream of charter work. Business is growing every year.”

Lots of these flights are to and from the Muskoka area, however the company has additionally taken shoppers so far as New York.

Nevertheless, to really increase using helicopters in Toronto, Fex believes a downtown helipad have to be constructed — and Fig Air is working onerous to make that happen in the town’s Port Lands space.

Heli-Lynx lately delivered this heavily-customized VIP Airbus H125. The company is specializing in VIP work to offer future growth. Oliver Johnson Photograph

Another new entrant in the corporate charter/administration market in the GTA is Flight Options & Providers (FSS). Based mostly
at Toronto Pearson airport, the company manages three personal helicopters (together with an MD Helicopters MD 520N and a Sikorsky S76C+) and has one on a business certificates — in addition to a longstanding fixed-wing fleet.

Ian McDougall, chair and CEO of FSS, stated the growth in rotary-wing interest the company had seen was possible as a consequence of a number of elements.

“You get a few people who develop an interest in helicopters and start flying,” he stated. “It becomes more a topic of conversation amongst people who can afford it and either are or become interested in having them.”

McDougall also recognized a demographic shift, as the town’s wealthy begin to move to the north of the town. “It’s not just Muskoka, you can see it in places like Collingwood and elsewhere,” he stated.

When it comes to future enlargement, FSS is taking a look at totally different operating fashions which have proven successful elsewhere in North America. “We have looked at Blade out of New York . . . and it is a model of great interest to us,” he stated. “We want to keep an eye on any possibilities around a similar model.”

An OEM’s view

Airbus Helicopters claims 44 % of the VIP helicopter market in Canada, having steadily grown its share over the past 5 years.

In accordance with Brian Reid, senior director of gross sales, Airbus Helicopters North America, the H125, H130 and H135 are fashionable decisions for the VIP position, whereas the larger mild twin H145 has additionally seen a shocking amount of success in the sector. And the Canadian launch customer for the H160 — the upcoming medium twin — can be a VIP aircraft.

“Clearly our hopes are, once the aircraft is delivered, more will follow, because it’s just going to be an amazing machine and its appeal to that particular market is going to be significant,” stated Reid.

Bell just lately despatched a Bell 505 Jet Ranger X to Nationwide Helicopters for 2 days of demo flights for private clients. Regardless of being in its infancy in phrases of operational life, the sort has already proved an excellent fit with personal operators. Nationwide Helicopters Photograph

Airbus has also had respectable success offering the VIP completions to aircraft, with Reid claiming the company needs to make the whole process a VIP expertise — providing full story boards with interior and exterior renderings, and dedicating a program supervisor to every specific aircraft and customer.

“If the customer wants to hear every Friday what the state of their aircraft is, we’ll do that and send pictures of what happened this week with a quick update,” he stated. “Or, if the customer prefers only to hear once every two or three weeks, we customize that whole experience at their request to make sure we’re giving them exactly what they need.”

Will Fulton, head of selling, Airbus Helicopters North America, stated many VIP clients nonetheless embrace the utilitarian nature of helicopters.

“We find that even our billionaire VIP customers . . . know they’re going to go to their cabin that they can only access by a helicopter, so for them, they embrace a good blend of form and function with fit and finish.”

When it comes to use, Reid stated VIP clients are finding benefits to utilizing the plane for enterprise in addition to to flee the town.

“I think the high net worth individuals are realizing that avoiding sitting in traffic for two hours to go across town is a very useful part of their business,” he stated. “They’re able to actually conduct meetings in the back of the aircraft, in particular the twin-engine helicopters that we offer, and make useful time of travel. And obviously in Eastern Canada, especially the Greater Toronto Area, you’re seeing a lot of that desire to eliminate the traffic that you can see going up to the family cottage — and the usefulness of the aircraft to move things like equipment, furniture, and supplies, back and forth.”

The VIP market around Canada’s largest city is clearly rising, as executives and rich people uncover the varied advantages that having a helicopter can present them, each personally and for their work. Ought to Toronto’s infrastructure change to make the town’s downtown much more accessible by helicopter, that growth might develop into exponential.