The Helicopter Company

Saudi Arabia’s first commercial helicopter operator sees vertical lift off


Arnaud Martinez, CEO, The Helicopter Company, details the fast development of the company on the back of heightened investment in Saudi Arabia’s aviation-related sectors and its current plans to create a nationwide helicopter emergency medical services sector from scratch.

As Saudi Arabia’s aviation sector sees exponential growth on the back of airport expansion projects and the launch of a new national airline, the Kingdom’s first commercial helicopter operator is positioning itself to soar to new heights alongside its peers. The Helicopter Company (THC) was officially launched in 2018 by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to meet the growing demand for commercial helicopters associated with the country’s Vision 2030 mega-projects, including the Giga Projects and the giant NEOM smart city. The company currently provides construction, filmography, surveying, private charters, medical response and tourism services. As Saudi Arabia advances with its diversification plans, the aviation frontrunner intends to advance into new sectors. “We are now looking into hospitality, aerial work, sports and entertainment,” said Arnaud Martinez, CEO of THC. “We want to be a solid operator that will leave a lasting legacy.”

The company expects to expand its fleet of helicopters from 29 at the end of 2022 to 46 by the end of 2023 and up to 58 in 2024 to meet rising demand, with recent purchases sourced from French aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Italian manufacturer Leonardo. The company is also looking to establish a fleet of fix-winged aircraft and sea planes to meet project requirements. As of March 2023, the company had spent more than $533 million in capital investment, with more expected as demand for helicopter services rises. THC is reaching for organic growth, with 80% of its fleet contracted. “We do not bring in helicopters to leave on the shelf; we only bring helicopters that are required,” said Martinez. “Sustainability is one of our goals.”

Where tomorrow takes flight

THC is currently working alongside Red Sea Global, an entity responsible for two of Saudi Arabia’s largest regenerative tourism projects on its western coast, the Red Sea and Amaala developments. The partners celebrated the first delivery of an ACH160 helicopter in March 2023, Airbus’ most technologically advanced model. Similarly, the company signed a contract in March 2023 with aerospace leader SKYTRAC Systems for mission monitoring and advanced connectivity services, including low-earth orbit satellite technology. “As an operator, we are ready to embrace innovation and a greener platform with less noise and advanced safety features that do not exist on other platforms. Our projects do not compromise on safety, and we will continue in this fashion,” said Martinez.

"Our risks do not compromise on safety, and we will continue in this fashion. Whatever we do, we want to do it differently, but we need to make sure the basics are in place."

One of the company’s flagship projects is the creation of a nationwide helicopter emergency medical services sector alongside medical services organization Saudi Red Crescent Authority. The partners hope to grow the sector to cover 90% of the country, which will require a foundation of 30 helicopters and 23 bases, most of which will need to be newly established. Operations have begun with day services, after which night services will be included as the operation grows. “In terms of scale, it is one of the largest projects we have in our portfolio,” said Martinez. “We want to provide immediate response for any emergency within this coverage area.” The company has chosen the twin-engine AW139 and utility H145 helicopters to form its medical response fleet, with many delivered to the market this year.

According to Martinez, the company’s biggest challenge is related to human resources. In 2022 the company instigated its Qimam program to train Saudi pilots and engineers, which includes sending up to 50 workers per year to be sent overseas for upskilling. The company also plans on expanding its internal training operations, including the purchase of AW139 and H145 simulators for onsite training within 2023 as well as a virtual single-engine aircraft simulator. “We are extremely clear at the highest level within the Public Investment Fund and with the leaders of the companies we sign contracts with that we are investing in the Kingdom and local content,” said Martinez.