Now is a really good time to buy a helicopter

Why wait?
Why wait?
Image: Reuters/Paulo Whitaker
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It’s a buyer’s market.

slump in oil, gas and other commodity prices over the past two years has left lower helicopter prices in its wake. In economies like Brazil’s, which are heavily reliant on volatile commodities prices, demand for corporate use copters has grown soft. And while companies that extract natural resources often rely on choppers to survey prospective mines and oilfields, they’ve recently been warming to drones, which can be less expensive.

Now, a used 2010 Bell 407 helicopter, a mid-size model that can work for corporate use or for mining operations, is fetching $1.69 million this month, down more than 13% from two years ago, according to helicopter appraisal firm Helivalues.

“The civil and parapublic [helicopter] market still looks pretty awful,” Thomas Enders, chief executive of Airbus Group, said during an earnings call last month. Airbus produces about a quarter of the world’s rotorcrafts, according to Forecast International, an aerospace-market research firm.

Helicopters generally hold their value much better than cars. The latest downturn is notable because rotorcraft production has declined—an important gauge of demand, since producers often have buyers lined up when the parts come together on the factory floor. Global rotorcraft production will likely total just 1,050 in 2016, which would be the fewest in at least a decade, according to Forecast International.

But the cheaper helicopters could be a boon to companies that offer shared rides on the aircraft, like Uber and Blade. Not to mention for wealthy private citizens looking for new ways to travel.

Finding a helicopter is easy, if you have some money to burn. A 1981-made 109A by Italian manufacturer Leonardo, currently sells for just $220,000, down by close to 50% from two years ago, Helivalues data show. And for a rock-bottom $100,000 you can get the helicopter frame—but likely need to replace most of the parts.

The real hard part is finding a helipad. And a pilot. And a hangar. And a community that will allow for your noisy arrival.

“You can’t really land in your backyard,” says Ray Jaworowski, a senior aerospace analyst at Forecast International.