When you really think about it, there really shouldn’t be any contest between airplanes and helicopters. After all, airplanes are significantly faster, have lower fuel consumption, and possess proportionally larger passenger and cargo capacity.
In saying that, however, one must recognize the inherent advantages of helicopters as well, with the most apparent being the vertical takeoff. Unlike airplanes, helicopters do not require long runways for flight. Vertical takeoffs mean helicopters can lift off and land practically anywhere, including on building rooftops and locations inaccessible from the ground. This makes them extremely useful in rescue, military and law enforcement operations, among others. Helicopters also function at lower heights, allowing a direct line of sight that is often crucial during recovery and rescue operations.
In addition, helicopters can move in practically any direction, giving them enormous maneuverability especially in small spaces.
For high-flying executives, the relatively loose airspace regulations for helicopters means they can travel over congested city streets at a moment’s notice without the hassle of filing flight plans. Similarly, trips to offices in neighboring cities, airports or out-of-town retreats will shave hours from regular road travel times.
This probably explains why the corporate helicopter niche continues to be one of the fastest growing segments of the industry. Most new product launches today will inevitably include a corporate version, and older military choppers are routinely retrofitted to serve as commercial crafts.
Commercial or corporate helicopters typically have larger passenger space compared to firefighting, medical, military, or police versions. They are equipped with better soundproofing capabilities, as well as larger seats, air conditioning, and in some instances, toilets. Obviously, they are also visually more appealing, with glossy exterior finishes and carpeted interiors.
Our list below features ten of the most expensive commercial helicopters today, designed exclusively for the busy CEO's and head of nations.
10 Eurocopter EC155 B1 Dauphin: $10.20 Million
Known for its class-leading low noise signature, the French-made Dauphin EC155 is one of the most popular commercial helicopters today, with almost 1,000 units sold in 28 countries around the world. Despite being originally released 14 years ago, the EC155 has consistently undergone component upgrades over the years and is now currently powered by two Arriel 2C2 engines. The helicopter is also equipped with the groundbreaking 4-axis autopilot which enables hands free hovering.
9 AgustaWestland AW149: $13.0 Million
The versatile mid-sized helicopter is more well-known as a military craft. However, it is also sold as a Head of State and VVIP corporate helicopter. Featuring state of the art avionics, its converted weapons storage gives the AW149 significantly larger leg room, on top of the default 18 crashworthy seats. The high roof also reduces crouching to a minimum. Equipped with full anti-icing engines, air conditioning and powerful external search light, this twin-engine 9-ton beast is as practical as it is intimidating.
8 AgustaWestland BA609: $14 Million
Jointly-developed by Texas-based Bell Helicopter and Italian giants Agusta, the BA609 is technically a tiltrotor craft. Tiltrotors are airplanes with vertical takeoff ability courtesy of two pivoting side rotors. Previously known as the Bell/Agusta BA609, the craft is by far the fastest on our list. The 60-foot long BA609 also has the best fuel consumption ratio, with an impressive 2.35 nautical miles per gallon. However, it can only accommodate a maximum of nine passengers onboard. To date, 81 units have been sold by the manufacturer.
7 Bell 525 Relentless: $15.0 Million
The yet-to-be released Relentless is already being touted as one of the most advanced and luxurious corporate helicopters on the market. Powered by twin 1,800shp GE CT7-2F1 engines, the 16-passenger mid-size helicopter will be the largest commercial helicopter in Bell’s history. Despite being launched in early 2012, the approval of the Relentless by U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is taking longer than expected owing to the craft’s revolutionary fly-by-wire flight control system. The Relentless will also feature the state-of-the-art Garmin G5000H avionics suite that will include a next-generation limited voice command ability.
6 Eurocopoter AS332 L1 Super Puma: $16.2 Million
The L1 variant of the hugely popular Eurocopter AS332 range is a commercial chopper with the rugged characteristics of its military counterpart. Able to perform optimally even in difficult weather conditions, the AS332 L1 features two 1,819shp Turbomeca Makila 1A1 engines, a Fenestron tail rotor and advanced EFIS avionics. However, despite its spacious cabin space, the craft has a relatively low cabin height, measuring at just a little over five feet. To date, more than 500 units of the AS332 L1 have been sold to the civilian market.
5 Kazan Mi-171A2: $17.08 Million
The Russian-made large transport helicopter, also known as the Mi-8MT, first made its name during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's. In the intervening decades, this hugely versatile craft has made steady inroads into multiple markets, including corporate, civil and charter markets. Frequently seen conducting large scale civilian deployment and extraction, the Kazan Mi-17 II is also noted for its high altitude ceiling (in excess of 13 thousand feet). Owing to its size, it is naturally slower than its medium-sized competitors, but makes up for it with a large passenger capacity.
4 Sikorsky S-92 Cougar: $17.7 Million
Similar to the H-92 military variant, the Sikorsy S-92 can ferry up to 19 passengers for up to 539nm – no small feat for a mid-sized helicopter. Equipped with the powerful General Electric CT7-8A twin turbo engines, the S-92 is currently the official helicopter for the Turkish Prime Minister, as well as nine other heads of state. Currently, it is the only commercial helicopter that meets both the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency safety standards. Installing the optional auxiliary fuel tank will extend the range of the chopper to 750 nm, but will a shorter capacity of 14 passengers.
3 AgustaWestland AW101 VVIP: $18.2 Million
Originally named EH101, the AgustaWestland AW101 VVIP is a versatile medium/heavy helicopter that has excelled itself in combat, rescue operations and these days, the corporate market. This long-ranged craft, a favorite of the U.K. and Italian navies, is a rugged, high performance machine of aluminium-lithium construction. It is also equipped with high flotation tires for landing and takeoffs on uneven and soft terrains. The AW101 VVIP was involved in a scandal in early 2013 owing to allegations of corruption involving a $770 million deal with the Indian Ministry of Defence.
2 Bell Huey II UH-1H: $25 Million
At a glance, the Huey may appear to be a slow, lumbering relic of the Cold War era. However, a closer scrutiny will reveal that it is extraordinarily spacious, quiet and reliable. Once we add in the extensive point-of-sale factory customization options and the recent software upgrades, it suddenly becomes apparent why it is a firm favorite with the high end crowd. With 220 sq. ft. to play with, a fully-customized Huey II is able to offer a level of comfort comparable to that of business class seats in commercial jets.
1 Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma Mk II+: $29 Million
The state-of-the-art EC225 Superpuma Mk II+, Eurocopter’s flagship product, is the hottest model in the corporate market today, and for very good reasons. It is fast, spacious and ultra-luxurious. It doesn’t hurt that the craft is equipped with some of the latest components and technology on the market, including two powerful 2,382shp Makila 2A1 turbo engines, an automatic flight control system and a Trafﬁc Collision and Avoidance System. The EC225 Superpuma Mk II+ is also capable of operating in extreme cold environments (up to -49°F). In addition, the model is also able to run for an astounding 50 minutes after the loss of oil pressure.