Airbus open to potential partner in Brazil’s Helibras, executive says

By Gabriel Araujo

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Airbus would be open to sell a stake in helicopter maker Helibras to a potential strategic partner after it reached full ownership of the Brazilian company earlier this year, the head of the subsidiary told Reuters on Monday.

The European planemaker, which has controlled the formerly state-owned Helibras since the mid-2000s, acquired the remaining 15.5% stake from the state of Minas Gerais in January for 95 million reais ($19.4 million).

That, however, was not Airbus Helicopters’ initial plan, Helibras President Alberto Duek said in his first media interview since taking office in July.

The move, he noted, was more related to Minas Gerais’ own privatization goals, which prompted the state to look for a buyer for its stake in the company, a market leader in Brazil and the only helicopter manufacturer in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Airbus was very happy with the government of Minas Gerais in Helibras’ capital,” Duek said. “But given the risk that some adventurous company could enter our capital and disturb our business, we felt obliged to buy that stake.”

“That does not mean that if a reliable partner appears Airbus would not be open to selling those shares. The right partner would have to appear, a reliable one at the right time, and we can analyze each offer.”

He did not reveal if Airbus was out in the market actively searching for a strategic partner, but said that any potential contender would have to share Airbus’ compliance principles, market reputation and add to Helibras’ efforts.

Helibras, which will participate this week in the LABACE airshow in Sao Paulo, sold a record 50 helicopters in 2022, a backlog that Duek described as positive but challenging as the sector continues to grapple with supply chain constraints.

The executive said those issues, which date back to the COVID-19 pandemic, were still not in the past. He expects some one-and-a-half or two more years before the situation normalizes.

Duek said that after a strong performance last year, the helicopter market faced a slowdown in the first half of 2023 but has been regaining momentum and faces a positive second half.

“We must be realistic – it will be hard for us to beat that record of 50 helicopter orders. But our prospects are for a very good year.”

Helibras sells helicopters to both private clients and the public sector. It has also been investing in exports, which currently account for 20% of the firm’s output, Duek said. It has customers in countries such as Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia.

($1 = 4.8999 reais)

(Reporting by Gabriel Araujo; editing by Jason Neely)