LONDON — Private aircraft leasing giant JetLease has joined forces with UMS Skeldar in what could be a groundbreaking deal to offer the European remotely piloted air systems company’s V-200 and other rotorcraft to armed forces, government agencies and civil customers.
It’s believed to be the first time a major leasing company has moved to offer remotely piloted vehicles to military or civil users.
David Willems, the head of business development at the part Saab-owned UMS Skeldar, said the companies would stick close to the formula, which has seen the leasing of thousand’s of airliners, business jets and helicopters turn the industry into a multibillion dollar global activity.
“We are not reinventing the wheel. We are transporting what works well in manned aviation into the unmanned sector for high-end platforms like the V-200. The customer groups we are targeting are the heavy industry players, government agencies and the military, who may not have the means or the necessity to acquire platforms from Day One,” he says.
“Even successful airlines like Lufthansa and Emirates have a mixed fleet, some owned and some leased, it will be the same for the UAVs as well,” Willems said in a telephone interview ahead of the official announcement of the tie-up with JetLease on Sept. 12, the opening day of the DSEI defense exhibition in London, England.
The arrangement to adapt the hugely successful aviation leasing business model to the unmanned sector is partly responsible for UMS Skeldar’s expected move in the next few months to ramp up production of the V-200 via a third party-licensed manufacturing deal.
The cooperation pact brings together JetLease — a world leader in leasing business jets and helicopters from its base in Florida — with the Saab/UMS Aero Swiss-based joint venture UMS Skeldar, which produces a range of rotary and fixed-wing UAVs.
The leasing packages with JetLease will cover basic financing to complete managed services, outsourcing of operations and logistics
According to Axel Cavalli-Björkman, CEO of UMS Skeldar, said the partnership would make the V-200 “accessible to a range of customers in the so-called blue light sector — police, security and emergency services, search and rescue, and emerging nations’ military markets.
“Outsourced contracts and third-party financing including ‘Power by the Hour’ are attractive options placing our Saab-developed technologies within reach of an increasing number of prospective customers,” Cavalli-Björkman said.
Leasing of remotely piloted vehicles is already a growing business, but so far the vast majority of the deals have been secured by the platform makers themselves.
“The structure of the lease based on what happens in the manned aviation sector is a more streamline product compared with the original equipment manufacturer self-funding the leasing to the customer. In our case, the risk is shifted to the leasing organisation,” Willems said.
One way it could work is UMS Skeldar sells assets to JetLease and they have them on their books to lease forward, said Willems.
“We are in a much better position than if we were leasing our platforms [directly], as we envisaged a while ago. We offer the platform to the financial institution, who then leases it to the client. It’s a far better deal all round,” he said.
The UMS Skeldar executive said the typical customer for the financial product being offered by JetLease is a government agency or military who wants between a one- to three-year deal for a specific mission, although the arrangement can last as long as the customer wants.
“We are seeing a lot of requests from military customer[s] who want to access the platform for 12-18 months without going through the long process of procurement. Leasing is a far quicker option,” Willems said.
Like the civil aviation business model, the customer can lease with or without pilots and support staff.
Willems said they will start with a dry lease arrangement — without providing pilots or ground support — as that is the simplest way to get the operation up and running.
UMS Skeldar already has a pilot-training arrangement with Martek Marine, a company to which it has sold the V-200. Willems said discussions are ongoing with similar organizations to provide capacity on a regional basis.
The U.S.-based Trident Group was one company mentioned by Willems as a possible partner for training military pilots.
The contract with Martek Marine will see UMS Skeldar build two machines to service the Rotherham, England-based company’s €67 million (U.S. $81 million) deal to provide pollution monitoring, maritime search and rescue, and other roles for the European Maritime Safety Agency.
Martek said the two-year arrangement with EMSA is the largest remotely piloted vehicle contract ever done in the civil maritime sector.
UMS Skeldar has also sold and delivered the V-200 to the Indonesian military.
Willems reckons the company will secure a further two orders before the year is out, although he didn’t say whether they would be based on leasing or purchasing.
UMS Skeldar is increasing manufacturing output at its factories in Sweden and Switzerland to cope with immediate demands for more capacity, but Willems said the big step will be to reach an industrialization agreement with a manufacturing licensing deal.
“If leasing platforms and other sales works well, we will need industrialization with our partners to produce on a large scale. Our existing infrastructure is limited in output. We are increasing it marginally, but not in numbers we would need,” Willems said.
“We are talking with two [potential leasing] customers and there are a lot of requests in the pipeline that would fit this model, so we are going to ramp it [production] up,” he added.