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Thinking of Buying a Helicopter? Best Tips From a Pilot


Owning a helicopter may seem like a lavish luxury to most but for those where time is a limited commodity, a helicopter can easily pay for itself. For those who wish to beat the traffic and spend more time enjoying life than sitting in a car, a helicopter can also provide great benefits.

Buying a helicopter needs careful attention. Selecting the size, capabilities, component times, maintenance, fuel, hanger, pilots & mechanics, insurance, and delivery are just some of the factors that need to be addressed to find the best deal. Purchase and ongoing budgets need careful consideration.

Buying a helicopter is not as simple as buying a vehicle! There are a lot of factors that need to be looked into to ensure the best deal for both the short and long term can be made and the helicopter does not become one of those ‘Worst decisions of my life’ scenarios.

Aircraft ownership is not cheap, but when done correctly can become a great experience and a valuable tool for the owner.

Things to Be Aware of Before Purchasing a Helicopter

If this is your first time looking to purchase a helicopter then there are a few things you need to be aware of:

Size of Helicopter

There are helicopters of every size to suit every kind of operation. The first thing you need to consider is how many passengers are needed to be flown. Are you looking to fly just yourself and maybe another person to the office and back? Are you looking to take the family away to the cottage for weekends? Are you looking to fly your team around to meetings or see customers at their properties?

The number of passengers to be flown will dictate the size of the helicopter.

The second part is if the helicopter will be flown by yourself, a single pilot, or two pilots as this will dictate seating capacity.

For Example:

Pilot + 3 passengers = 4 Seat Helicopter

Two pilots + 4 passengers = 6 Seat Helicopter

Pilot + 8 passengers = 9 Seat Helicopter

A 4 Seat Robinson R44 Raven II – A Very Popular Private Helicopter

Primary Use of the Helicopter

The main use of the helicopter needs to be considered as it will give an indication to the number of hours it will fly each year. Helicopters are based on hours flown and budgets are drawn up based on the number of projected hours flown per year to dictate the hourly running cost.

Typical annual hour budgets are 25 hours, 50 hours, 100 hours, 300 hours, and 500 hours flown each year. The more hours that are flown, the cheaper the hourly operating cost will be.

If a helicopter is estimated to be flown 30 minutes to the cottage and back, 3 weekends a month for 7 months of the year then an estimate of around 20-25 hours per year will be accurate. If however, the helicopter is being used to fly around the ranches of Texas on a daily basis then it could soon rack up 300-500 hours flown each year.

The Robinson R44 shown above has a manufacturer estimated hourly operating rate of around $255 per hour based on 500 hours flown per year. The actual costs could be quite different depending on the age of the helicopter.

If that same aircraft is flown only 25 hours per year then you can see the hourly cost is going to increase 20x!


For an easy-to-follow breakdown of operating costs for the R44 from The Robinson Helicopter Company Click Here


Capabilities of the Helicopter

Helicopters can be a very basic vehicle to allow the pilot to fly in good weather during the day, up to very complex, day/night, all-weather capable machines. As you can imagine, the cost goes up the more capable the helicopter becomes.

If you are looking for a helicopter to be able to fly your team around from city to city, day and night, in all weather then a twin-engine, IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) capable helicopter with flight automation and two pilots is one of the safest options, but will be running into the thousands per hour running cost.

A Sikorsky S76 is a common corporate helicopter.

The Leonardo AW109 is a Very Popular 7-8 Seat Private/Corporate Twin, IFR-Capable Helicopter – Source: James

If a smaller, fast, twin-engine, IFR-capable helicopter is required to allow you to fly your family around in luxury then a helicopter like an Agusta/Leonardo A109 is a very popular option.

Again, the main use of the helicopter will dictate the capabilities which you require it to have.

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* Buying a Helicopter? Which is the Best?
* Cost To Buy a Helicopter: 15 Most Popular Models

Fly or Be Flown

Are you a helicopter pilot, wish to become a helicopter or do you wish to employ pilot/s to fly the helicopter? Depending on the use of the aircraft the cost to pilot the aircraft will have to be considered in the initial budget.

If you are already a licensed helicopter pilot then the cost is zero or negligible to complete the initial training on the helicopter type.

If you are not a pilot but want to learn to be able to fly your family or for your business then a Helicopter Private Pilot Certificate will cost you around $20,000 to achieve. If you will be charging for your flying services then you will need a Commercial Helicopter Pilot Certificate which will cost a further $20,000-30,000.

If you wish to then fly under IFR or at night in remote areas an Instrument Rating is recommended to be completed. This can be incorporated into the Commercial Pilot Certificate or added to a Private Pilot Certificate.

If you wish to employ professional pilots to fly the helicopter then 1 to 2 pilots on an on-call basis or shift rotation can be an option. Depending on the experience of the pilot/s and the type of flying required you could be looking at $50,000-$150,000 per pilot each year, plus annual recurrent training costs.

Hanger & Parking

Where do you plan to park or hanger the helicopter when it’s not being flown? Do you own property and plan to build a hanger. Does your city allow this or will you need planning permission with neighborhood consultation?

Does your local airport have hanger space that can be rented? Are the hangers tall enough to fit a helicopter? Airplane hangers may be too low to accommodate the height of a helicopter!

Where will you be flying the helicopter to on a regular basis? Does that location have sufficient space to land and park a helicopter? Will you be landing at a heliport? What are the landing and parking fees?

Are you wanting to land at a larger international airport? Do they allow VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flights into that airport? This could be a problem if you are flying a helicopter like a Robinson R44 or a Bell 206 Jet Ranger?

These are things you will need to look into BEFORE buying a helicopter. The second thing that follows on from this is fuel.

Fuel Location

Depending on the type of engine/s your helicopter has will dictate the type of fuel it burns.

  • Piston-Powered Helicopters Burn 100 LL AvGas
  • Turbine-Powered Helicopters Burn Jet A

If you are building a hanger at your property it could be very beneficial to put in a fuel bowser. If you are looking to house your helicopter at a local airport you will need to make sure they have facilities to provide fuel of the correct type.

Fuel bowsers and fuel trucks at smaller airports may only supply AvGas and if you are planning to buy a turbine-powered helicopter you may not be able to get fuel there!

If the airport has only a stationary fuel station or bowser and not a refueling truck, you will have to fly to and from the fuel cache each time you get fuel. This will add ‘Start Cycles’ to the helicopter engine which could mean a shorter life before it requires overhaul.

Compare this to having a hanger where you can push the helicopter out and call the fuel truck over to you. This requires zero extra engine start cycles.

If you have to fly to a separate location to get fuel then this will need to be accounted for in both your time and budget. Flying to a nearby airport to get fuel before starting the journey or at the end of the journey can easily add 30 mintues. This may become an important factor especially when darkness is approaching or early take-offs are required.

Maintenance

Helicopters require maintenance often! A daily visual inspection before flight and then more in-depth inspections depending on the helicopter type. These can be just an annual inspection and/or could be based on hours flown, eg 150-Hour Inspection, 300-Hour Inspection, and so on.

Planned maintenance, unscheduled maintenance, repairs, and troubleshooting will have to be taken into account, and finding a good mechanic or maintenance facility will be required.

Large, twin-engined helicopters are usually under a maintenance contract, whereas a small, private helicopter can have basic maintenance completed by the owner and then the scheduled and more in-depth maintenance completed by a licensed aircraft mechanic.

Finding a good maintenance company/person to look after the helicopter can save a huge amount on costs, time and stress!

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* Learning To Fly Helicopters – Is it really that hard?
* How Much Does it Cost to Become a Helicopter Pilot?

Budget for the Helicopter

Now you have a few factors to look into the budget will need to be prepared. The options of purchasing new Vs used are a major decision and just like buying a vehicle, the conditions may favor a certain option.

Once the helicopter type has been selected, the ongoing annual costs, fuel costs, insurance, hanger rental, parking fees, and any employee wages need to be included.

Used helicopters can be purchased from as little as $50,000 dollars up to several million. New helicopters start around $200,000 and go up to tens of millions.

If purchasing is looking like it will be over your budget a very popular option is to lease, part-own, or rent a helicopter as needed:

  • Lease a Helicopter – Pay for a set amount of hours to fly each year – This can include a pilot or not
  • Part Ownership – Buying into a share of a helicopter could be an option, but availablity may be an issue
  • Rent a Helicopter – Renting from a school at which you trained could be an option for doing a few flights per month

Leases and aircraft rental can be had for under $1000/hour for smaller helicopters.

By far my biggest recommendation when looking to buy/lease a helicopter is to employ the services of an experienced helicopter broker. Their knowledge and experience will be money well spent! This would be EXACTLY what I would do.

If you are looking to rent a helicopter, then speak to the local helicopter companies/flight schools and see what their conditions are.

Helicopters Current Location

Amazing deals can be found on helicopters but they may not even be in the same country, let alone the same continent. Helicopters are brought and shipped across the world a lot more than you would think!

Equipment fitted in a helicopter in another country may not be approved in your country, or it may be missing equipment that is required. This does increase costs before it can be deemed and certified as airworthy in your country, but the benefits may still be worth the effort.

Another thing to be aware of is getting the aircraft from them to you. Is it close enough where it can be flown? Does it need to be packed into a shipping container? What is the documentation required to get it to you? These are things to consider.

If it’s going to be flown, who is going to fly it? Do you need to employ an experienced pilot to ferry it or accompany you to fly it?

Robinson Helicopters for example has strict minimum pilot requirements to be able to fly a new or overhauled aircraft from its factory – They don’t care if you have just spent close to a million dollars on an R66, your safety is their number one priority. For more information on Robinsons Ferry Pilot minimums Click Here.

Another reason why a seasoned helicopter broker experienced in international helicopter purchases is a must!

Learn More
Try These Articles:
* How Much Does It Cost to Rent a Helicopter?
* Pilot Medical Exam – What You Need To Pass Each Class?

Pre-Purchase Inspection

Before any contract is signed and any money has been exchanged a thorough Pre-Purchase Inspection of the helicopter must be carried out. Finding a seasoned helicopter inspector or mechanic that has tremendous experience in the exact model of helicopter is paramount!

There are a lot of components on a helicopter and the physical integrity of them is one thing, but a thorough inspection of the maintenance records and aircraft history is required to ensure that all the life-limited components are accurate to their paperwork.

A seller falsifying records to get a deal could end up costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars or an accident if component times are falsified.

Finding the right person to carry out this inspection is probably more important than the purchase of the helicopter itself! Bear in mind if the helicopter is in another country this person may need to be persuaded very healthily to travel and take a look.

You may find the aircraft you think is a great deal, is actually a can of worms waiting to be opened by the next owner!

Documentation

Helicopters come with ALOT of documentation! Aircraft Registration, Radio License, Certificate of Airworthiness, Hull Insurance, Liability Insurance, Aircraft Logbooks, Component Records, Maintenance Records, Pilot Certificates, Medical Certificates, the list goes on!

If this is your first time looking to buy an aircraft, let alone a helicopter finding someone to help you through the documentation alone is a must. Helicopters require a lot of documentation to be inspected and maintained or you could find the FAA breathing down your neck with very serious consequences for non-compliance.

You may see a pattern here, but a broker…..

Using a Broker To Purchase a Helicopter

I know you have now read that the use of a dedicated helicopter broker is paramount to ensure the success of your first helicopter purchase and as you begin to research more into your acquisition you will start to come across other helicopter owners. Ask them if they used a broker and if they can recommend one.

Treat finding a broker like you would finding a contractor to build your home. A personal connection is a must but the abilities and experience of the broker are very important.


If you would like to have a broker contact you to begin your first steps then please enter your details below:

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Rick James

I am an aviation nut! I'm an ATP-rated helicopter pilot & former flight instructor with over 3500 hours spanning 3 countries and many different flying jobs. I love aviation and everything about it. I use these articles to pass on cool facts and information to you whether you are a pilot or just love aviation too! If you want to know more about me, just click on my picture!

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