The Bristol Helicopter Group Shifts Its Business Model With An Order For 50 Estol Aircraft
Electra's new eSTOL aircraft are expected to be introduced to Bristow's fleet by 2026. (Image: Electra)
Electra.aero is developing a fixed-wing aircraft called eSTOL that will be used by helicopter operator Bristow. On August 26, Texas-based Bristow signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to buy up to 50 of the aircraft.
According to Bristow, it will also assist the start-up in developing "the eSTOL aircraft's operation, design, and safety features to meet FAA, EASA, and Transport Canada certification requirements." With a focus on middle-mile logistics needs for retailers, the two companies intend to explore potential new applications for hybrid-electric short takeoff and landing models.
It will be powered by Electra's proprietary blown lift design and eight electric motors, as well as an as-yet-unspecified turbogenerator to recharge batteries while in flight, avoiding the need for ground charging infrastructure. In all weather conditions, it can carry five to seven passengers or 1,800 pounds of cargo on trips of up to 500 miles.
To take off and land, the unnamed eSTOL model will need a surface of 300 feet or less, making it capable of operating many missions currently carried out by rotorcraft. Hard surfaces outside cargo distribution hubs that are not specifically designed as runways may be included in this category.
As a result of the move, the Bristow group will no longer operate a fleet of around 240 rotorcraft around the world, mainly serving oil and gas companies and governments, as well as providing search and rescue services.
The MoU lays the groundwork for early collaboration and development between Bristow and Electra for a new class of aircraft, in much the same way Bristow pioneered vertical transportation over 70 years ago. “We will be able to reduce carbon emissions and operating costs substantially by utilizing the unique capabilities of electric and hybrid power generation technologies,” said Bristow CEO Chris Bradshaw. As a result, we will be able to expand our expertise in providing sustainable, innovative, and efficient vertical lift and aerial transport solutions to new potential end markets, such as regional passenger and cargo transportation.
The company's founder and CEO, John Langford, said that as a launch customer, Bristow would enjoy early access to Electra's aircraft, which will deliver twice the payload, fly longer ranges, and have substantially lower operating costs than vertical takeoff alternatives, along with much lower certification risks.
Due to declining demand and excess helicopter capacity in the offshore oil and gas sector, Bristow has been looking to diversify its business model for some time. As a result of higher fuel and maintenance costs in the second quarter, the group reported reduced losses in early August. Based on operating revenues of $288.4 million, Bristow lost $14.2 million, compared with $42.6 million in the prior quarter.
A $26.7 million increase in revenue was recorded in the second quarter compared to the same period a year ago. The company's liquidity remained healthy at $298.8 million, with $244.7 million being unrestricted cash. In addition to two Sikorsky S-76D rotorcraft and one Bell 212, the company gained $10.6 million from the disposal of property.
In diverse locations, Bristow's various business units reported an increase in revenues: energy service revenues rose $4 million primarily due to higher European activity, government services revenues rose $3.4 million, and fixed-wing revenues jumped $2.6 million mainly due to Australian activities. Due to non-renewals and lower aircraft utilization, energy revenues from Africa declined $15.3 million, but this was partially offset by a revenue increase of $18.1 million in the Americas resulting from Bristow's merger with Era.