- 01 Feb 2022
- Mike Chase
- Helicopter Comparisons
In this month’s Aircraft Comparative Analysis, Mike Chase provides information on two popular medium-size twin-engine turbine helicopters. How will the Bell 412EP compare against the Airbus AS365 N3, and to whom does each appeal?
Over the following paragraphs, we’ll analyse the performance of the Bell 412EP and the Airbus AS365 N3 to see how they compare within the market. We will consider key productivity parameters (payload, range, speed, and cabin size), and assess their current market values.
Are all medium twin-engine turbine helicopters created equal? We’ll look for the answer over the following paragraphs.
The Bell 412EP (Enhanced Performance) was produced between 1994 to 2015. It provided improved, more powerful Pratt & Whitney PT6T-3D engines than older versions of the 412 series, along with a three-axis Dual Digital Automatic Flight Control System (DDAFCS).
An upgrade program exists for the Bell 412EP, via an STC, converting the aircraft into a Bell 412Epi. This upgrade includes retrofitted PT6T-9 Twin-Pac engines enabling more power, and installation of the Bell BasiX Pro Integrated Avionic System in the cockpit.
During its production run, an impressive 525 units of the Bell 412EP were shipped to customers around the world. By continent, Asia accounts for 41%, North America 23%, and Europe 9% of the fleet.
Airbus AS365 N3
Initially produced by Eurocopter in 1987, production of the Airbus AS365 N3 Dauphin 2 continued until 2018. Replacing the AS365 N2 model, the N3 features improved hot-and-high performance, thanks to its more powerful Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC)-equipped Turbomeca Arriel 2C engines.
As many as 201 AS365 N3 units were produced and distributed to customers around the world to be deployed across a wide range of mission profiles. Asia accounts for 42% of the worldwide AS365 N3 fleet, while Europe is home to 36% and North America 8%.
Helicopter Usage Comparison
Chart A shows the usage of both helicopters broken into market groupings, including Business, Charter, Government, Military, and ‘Other’ (which is a variety of ‘other’ mission usage types combined).
The largest defined usage for the Bell 412EP helicopter is Charter (30%) followed closely by Military (28%). The most popular defined usage for the Airbus AS365 N3 (apart from Other – 27%) is Charter (26%) and Government (19%).
Chart A: Bell 412EP vs Airbus AS365 N3 Popular Use Comparison
The data contained in Table A is sourced from the OEMs. As we have mentioned in previous comparison articles, a potential operator should focus on payload capability as a key factor. Though a close match, the Bell 412EP ‘Payload with Maximum Fuel’ (2,786lbs) is more than that offered by the Airbus AS356 N3 (2,636lbs).
Table A: Bell 412EP vs Airbus AS365 N3 Payload Comparison
Chart B, courtesy of UPCAST JETBOOK, offers a cabin cross-section comparison and shows the Bell 412EP has more width (8ft. vs 6.3ft.) but less height (4.2ft. vs 4.6ft.) than the Airbus AS365 N3 cabin. Not depicted in the cross-section, the Bell 412EP offers slightly more cabin length (7.7 ft. vs 7.2 ft.) and has a greater overall cabin volume than the AS365 N3 (220cu.ft vs 180cu.ft).
The Airbus AS365 N3 provides 39cu.ft of baggage space, compared to 28cu.ft. for the Bell 412EP.
Chart B: Bell 412EP vs Airbus AS365 N3 Cabin Comparison
Typically, the Bell 412EP offers executive seating for nine with two crew members, while the Airbus AS365 N3 offers five passenger seats with one crew member. In a standard seating configuration, the Bell 412EP provides 14 passenger seats and the Airbus AS365 N3 has 12.
As depicted by Chart C using Grand Prairie, Texas, as the origin point, the Bell 412EP has a Seats Full range of 366nm, which is less than that of the Airbus AS365 N3, at 427nm.
Chart C: Bell 412EP vs Airbus AS365 N3 Range Comparison
The Bell 412EP is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada turbine engines that offers 1,800shp. By comparison, the Airbus AS365 N3 is powered by two Turbomeca Arrius 2C turbine engines producing 851shp.
Cost Per Mile Comparison Chart D details the ‘Cost per Mile’ for our comparative helicopters (per JETNET). This factors direct costs (no depreciation) with each aircraft flying a 200nm mission. The Bell 412EP shows a higher cost per nautical mile ($11.18), compared to $8.94 for the Airbus AS365 N3. That is a difference of $2.24 (25% less) in favor of the AS365 N3.
Chart D: Bell 412EP vs Airbus AS365 N3 Hourly Operating Cost Comparison
Total Variable Cost
The ‘Total Variable Cost’ illustrated in Chart E is defined as the Cost of Fuel Expense, Maintenance Labor Expense, Scheduled Parts Expense and Miscellaneous Trip Expense, and is sourced from JETNET.
The Total Variable Cost for the Bell 412EP is $1,084 per hour, which is $269 (or 33%) more than the Airbus AS365 N3 at $815 per hour.
Chart E: Bell 412EP vs Airbus AS365 N3 Variable Cost Comparison
Table B contains the used 2015 prices from Aircraft Bluebook for each helicopter, which represents the last year both models were in production. The average speed, cabin volume and seats full ranges are from the OEMs, while the number of helicopters in-operation and percentage ‘For Sale’ are as reported by JETNET.
At the time of writing, the Bell 412EP had 3.8% of its fleet available ‘For Sale’, and the Airbus AS365 N3 had 2.5% ‘For Sale’.
Table B: Bell 412EP vs Airbus AS365 N3 Market Comparison
The average number of pre-owned transactions (units sold) per month for the Bell 412EP stood at two units per month, compared to the Airbus AS365 N3 (one unit sold per month).
Asking Prices & Quantity
At the time of writing, the used helicopter market for the Bell 412EP showed a total of 20 units available ‘For Sale’, with seven displaying an asking price. These ranged between $2.2m to $4.95m. By comparison, five used Airbus AS365N3 helicopters were available ‘For Sale’, with one displaying an asking price of $3.5m.
While each serial number is unique, the airframe hours and age/condition will cause great variations in price – even between models of the same vintage. The final negotiated price ultimately remains to be decided between the seller and buyer before the sale of an aircraft is completed.
Helicopters that are owned and operated by businesses are often depreciable for income tax purposes under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). Under MACRS, taxpayers are allowed to accelerate the depreciation of assets by taking a greater percentage of the deductions during the first few years of the applicable recovery period.
In certain cases, helicopters may not qualify under the MACRS system and must be depreciated under the less favorable Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) where depreciation is based on a straight-line method, meaning that equal deductions are taken during each year of the applicable recovery period. In most cases, recovery periods under ADS are longer than recovery periods available under MACRS.
There are a variety of factors that taxpayers must consider in determining if a helicopter may be depreciated, and if so the correct depreciation method and recovery period that should be utilized. For example, helicopters used in charter service (i.e., Part 135) are normally depreciated under MACRS over a seven-year recovery period or under ADS using a twelve-year recovery period.
Helicopters used for qualified business purposes, such as Part 91 business use flights, are depreciated under MACRS over a period of five years or by using ADS with a six-year recovery period. There are certain uses of the helicopter, such as non-business flights, which may have an impact on the allowable depreciation deduction available each year.
The US enacted the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act into law on December 22, 2017. Under the Act, qualifying taxpayers could deduct up to 100% of the cost of a new or pre-owned helicopter placed in service before January 1, 2023.
Beginning January 1, 2023, that deduction was reduced to 80%. Nevertheless, ‘Transportation Property’ described in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) §168(k)(2)(B) and ‘Certain Helicopters’ described in IRC §168(k)(2)(C) will have a one-year delay in the phasedown. Thus, such property may still be eligible for 100% bonus depreciation if placed into service in 2023.
The Bonus Depreciation will decrease each year by 20% until it phases out entirely after December 31, 2026.
Table C (below, left) depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2015-model Bell 412EP in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods. Meanwhile, Table D (below, right) depicts an example of using the MACRS schedule for a 2015-model Airbus AS365 N3 in private (Part 91) and charter (Part 135) operations over five- and seven-year periods.
The points in Chart F are centered on the same helicopters. Pricing used in the vertical axis are as published in the JETNET Market Price values for the model year 2015. The productivity index requires further discussion in that the factors used can be arbitrary. Productivity can be defined (and it is here) as the multiple of three factors:
1. Seats Full Range with available fuel;
2. The Long-Range cruise speed flown to achieve that range;
3. The cabin volume available for passengers and amenities.
Chart F: Bell 412EP vs Airbus AS365 N3 Productivity Comparison
Others may choose different parameters, but serious helicopter buyers are usually impressed with Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size. After consideration of the Price, Range, Speed and Cabin Size, we can conclude that the Airbus AS365 N3 displays a high level of productivity.
The 2015-model Airbus AS365 N3 shows a $1.6m lower used retail price than the Bell 412EP, and also has a 25% lower cost per mile and 33% lower operating cost per hour. Moreover, the AS365 N3 provides more range and speed than the Bell 412EP.
However, for the extra money, operators get greater ‘Payload with Maximum Fuel’ capability with the Bell 412EP, as well as more cabin volume. Are all medium-sized twin-engine turbine helicopters created equal? We can see from this comparison that, as with fixed wing aircraft, they are designed for different markets for whom they hit a sweet spot.
While operators should weigh up their mission requirements precisely when picking which option is the best for them, it appears that the Bell model suits those with the need to transport more people or payload, whereas the Airbus provides a good option for those needing to transport fewer passengers across a greater range, faster.
Within the preceding paragraphs we have touched upon several of the attributes that helicopter operators value. However, there are other qualities that might factor in a buying decision too, including climb rate, hot and high performance, upgrades and modifications, and other factors that are specific to the operator.
Our expectations are that the Bell 412EP and the Airbus AS365 N3 will continue to do well on the pre-owned helicopter market for the near future.