8th April 2019 – 12:00 GMT | by Gerrard Cowan, Shephard Media, in Belfast
Sikorsky has partnered with Lobo Leasing to offer a modified version of the S92A into the utility market. The S-92 Combi being offered by Lobo has been adapted to serve a range of missions under the utility umbrella, said Adam Schierholz, director of product marketing at Sikorsky. The utility configured aircraft comes with a ‘rapid change interior’ that can hold cargo, carry passengers or provide medevac support. Lobo has two S-92A Combi aircraft in its fleet, said John Contas, the lessor’s MD and chief marketing officer. They are the only two S-92As that are certified by the FAA to carry personnel and cargo in the same cabin area. B|oth helicopters were originally leased to AAR Airlift Group for use in Afghanistan, where they were used to transport cargo and personnel under a contract with the US government. After coming off lease earlier this year, Lobo began searching for new utility uses for the aircraft, for which it began collaborating with Sikorsky.
One of the aircraft has now been leased to Everett Aviation, where it will support onshore oil and gas and general utility operations in East Africa, initially based at Everett’s headquarters in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It features an interior that can seat up to 19 passengers in standard configuration or a mixture of passengers and stretchers or cargo in a combined configuration. Speaking at the time of the contract announcement, Simon Everett, CEO of Everett, noted that ‘many regions across sub-Saharan Africa are seeing a tremendous boom in infrastructure and civil engineering projects, and our new S-92A is ideally suited to supporting those missions’. Sikorsky always envisaged a range of use cases for the S-92A beyond the oil and gas sector, according to Schierholz. The collapse in oil prices in 2014 led the OEM to push forward with plans to market the helicopter into other sectors, he said. While the S-92A has been used in utility-related work before, the configuration being offered by Lobo is unique, he added. ‘The [utility work] has been there before, but its been a secondary market compared to offshore oil because there was such a demand in that market – we couldn’t make them fast enough back then [for energy], but now you’re seeing more and more S-92s in other missions,’ he said. Lobo owns five S-92As in total, with the other three platforms working in oil and gas, said Contas. The company considered other options beyond the energy sector for the aircraft, he said, notably SAR, but decided to focus on utility when it became clear there was demand in that market, through both its own marketing work and that of Sikorsky. ‘We realised there’s a market here that’s starting to develop and get some traction,’ he said. Lobo held a signing ceremony with Everett last month, which drove a great deal of traffic and interest in the Combi platform, Contas said. As of late March, the company was following up with prospective customers in the aircraft, he added, with four or five operators expressing a possible interest in leasing the platform, though it would take time before the lessor knows whether this will result in any deal and what exactly it would focus on.
While utility and SAR are the key secondary markets for the S-92A, Schierholz said Sikorsky is seeing growth in a number of other areas, pointing in particular to the use of the helicopters in VIP transportation, with 12 nations having selected the platform for head of state missions. He said Sikorsky is seeing ‘robust activity’ in this area. In the longer term he expects to see more applications for the S-92A in heavy external lift work, ‘with more and more opportunities for this aircraft to be deployed in the future in that area’. Contas said Lobo has also spoken to potential customers about using the S92A Combi in onshore oil and gas, in ‘exploration and production in very remote areas where people need to transport material’, he said. He also said there could be uses in humanitarian work, (for example, in UN contracts), as well as fire-fighting applications. ‘Those are some of the many utility missions we’re seeing,’ he added.