Helicopter operator Bristow is planning to launch services using the eSTOL fixed-wing aircraft being developed by Electra.aero. Under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) announced on August 26, Texas-based Bristow committed to buying up to 50 of the aircraft, which is set to enter commercial service in 2026.
Under the agreement, Bristow also said it will support the start-up in “development of the eSTOL aircraft’s operations, design, and safety features to meet customer as well as FAA, EASA, and Transport Canada certification requirements.” The two companies intend to jointly explore potential new applications for the hybrid-electric short takeoff and landing model, with a focus on middle-mile logistics needs for retailers.
The aircraft will feature Electra’s proprietary blown lift design and eight electric motors as well as an as-yet-unspecified turbogenerator to recharge batteries in flight, avoiding the need for charging infrastructure on the ground. According to Virginia-based Electra, it will be able to carry between five and seven passengers or 1,800 pounds of cargo on trips of up to around 500 miles in all weather conditions.
The unnamed eSTOL model is expected to need a surface of no more than 300 feet to take off and land, allowing it to operate many missions currently being performed by rotorcraft. This might include hard surfaces outside cargo distribution hubs that have not been developed specifically as runways.
The move marks a significant departure for the Bristow group, which today operates a worldwide fleet of around 240 rotorcraft, mainly serving customers in the oil and gas sector, as well as providing services such as search-and-rescue cover for governments and civil organizations.
“Just as Bristow pioneered the vertical transportation market some 70-plus years ago, this MoU sets the stage for early collaboration and development between Bristow and Electra for a new class of aircraft that will allow us to take advantage of the unique capabilities of electric and hybrid power generation technologies to substantially lower carbon emissions and operating costs,” said Bristow president and CEO Chris Bradshaw. “This will allow us to expand our expertise providing sustainable, innovative, and efficient vertical lift and aerial transport solutions into new potential end markets like moving time-sensitive cargo and passengers regionally.”
Electra founder and CEO John Langford said that, as his company’s launch customer, Bristow “will benefit from early access to Electra’s aircraft, which will deliver more than twice the payload, fly longer ranges, and have substantially lower operating costs than vertical takeoff alternatives, with much less certification risk.”
Bristow has been looking to diversify its business model for some time after seeing its financial performance dented by declining demand and excess helicopter capacity in the offshore oil and gas sector. In early August, the group said it had reduced losses after achieving slightly improved revenues in the second quarter against a backdrop of higher fuel and maintenance costs. For the quarter, Bristow lost $14.2 million on operating revenues of $288.4 million, compared with a loss of $42.6 million on operating revenues of $281.5 million in the preceding quarter.
Second-quarter revenues increased from the same period a year ago by $26.8 million. Liquidity remained a healthy $298.8 million, with $244.7 million of that in unrestricted cash. The company gained $10.6 million from the disposal of property that included two Sikorsky S-76D rotorcraft and a Bell 212.
Revenues increased across Bristow’s various business units in diverse locales: energy service revenues rose $4 million primarily due to higher European activity, those for government services jumped $3.4 million, and revenues from the company’s fixed-wing division climbed $2.6 million, largely due to activities in Australia. However, energy revenues from Africa dropped $15.3 million due to contract non-renewals and lower aircraft utilization, but this was partially offset by a revenue increase of $18.1 million in the Americas, resulting from Bristow’s merger with Era last year.