Sunday 17 December 2017

Helicopter trade roars no more as Celtic cubs are grounded

Louise Hogan

THE country's high-fliers are well and truly grounded.

Those looking skywards of late may have wondered about the deafening silence in the airways above.

Not only have the numbers jetting off on foreign holidays dropped, but it appears those Celtic cubs who splashed out on a helicopter in the good days have set them firmly on their landing pads.

The number of helicopters on the Irish register has almost halved since the height of the boom, according to the latest figures provided to the Irish Independent.

There are now 92 helicopters on the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) register, compared with 168 in 2008.

But this may not show the extent of the drop-off, as it is estimated there may have been more than 300 choppers in Ireland at the height of the boom as half were believed to be US and UK-registered.


One of the latest to attempt to off-load its chopper is the Quinn Group, whose founder Sean Quinn was using a helicopter as far back as 1995, long before they became an essential boast of the Celtic Tiger jet-set. It is understood the group's Agusta 109 helicopter is on the market.

Gym boss Ben Dunne was one of the first to "shed overhead" as he parted with his Agusta 109 as signs of the downturn emerged.

"I sold it at a little more than I paid for it and if I'd held on to it for six months longer it would have cost me €2m," the former supermarket tycoon said.

"It's only a fool that would have a helicopter now unless you are very, very wealthy."

Entrepreneur and star of TV show 'The Apprentice' Bill Cullen has also mothballed his chopper.

The number of helicopters removed from the Irish register has soared from three in 2005 to 43 in 2009.

Many have been sold abroad, with the majority re-registered in countries including the UK, the US, Germany, France, Russia, South Africa and Spain.

Joe McCarthy, managing director of Mach Aviation, said they were being sold mainly for business use.

Chris Shiel, owner of flight-training school Executive Helicopters, said it had been bringing in around 20 helicopters a year from clients, but this came to a halt in 2007.

"Nearly all private aircraft were sold by the beginning of this year," he said.

"All aircraft were purchased and owned by developers and property people. I don't see them going back into aircraft at the moment, the money just isn't there and it is not seen to be the thing to have."

Helicopters have become a rarer sight at sporting events, with just 20 aircraft registered for the Galway Races, down from around 90 in 2007.

The number of people taking flying lessons has also fallen, with just four student licences issued so far this year, compared with 78 a few years ago.

Mr Shiel said the €22,000 cost of training for a private helicopter licence had proven prohibitive and few were now signing up.

However, those already in possession of a private licence were studying for their commercial licence to go into flying as a profession.

Irish Independent

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