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Airbus Helicopters deliveries up, sees no quick oil recovery

PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Helicopters <AIR.PA> said its deliveries rose 5 percent last year to 418 units, while net orders rose less than 1 percent, shrinking its production backlog amid "challenging" market conditions.

The world's largest commercial helicopter maker, which has been hit by weak oil prices and the grounding of two types of Super Puma in the North Sea following an accident in Norway, said net orders rose to 353 helicopters from 333 in 2015.

Gross orders, which are not adjusted for cancellations, rose by 5 units to 388 helicopters.

"2016 was probably the most difficult year for the helicopter industry since 2008," Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said on a conference call.

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Low oil prices have depressed demand for offshore helicopter transport as energy companies have been forced to cut costs.

Faury said there was still overcapacity in the oil and gas industry and he did not expected a turnaround for 1-2 years.

He said he would be "happy" with about 400 deliveries in 2017 and that Airbus Helicopters aimed to sell as many aircraft as it delivers in 2017, reaching a book-to-bill ratio of 1.

The recent downturn has dampened the impact of the grounding of recent types of Super Puma following last year's accident, in which the rotor head separated from the helicopter, echoing a similar crash off Scotland in 2009.

Faury said he expected Norway to release its final report on the Norwegian accident "in the next few months".

European regulators conditionally lifted a ban on flights of certain Super Puma helicopters last year but Britain and Norway have kept national restrictions in place.

Faury said the company was working closely with regulators to return the fleet to service and "rebuild confidence" in the Super Puma in the North Sea, whose fleet decisions serve as a benchmark for rugged offshore operations around the world.

Some countries have followed the European directive and returned the Super Pumas to flight, subject to increased inspections, but industry sources say offshore operators in nations such as Australia are waiting for the UK's decision.

Faury said Airbus Helicopters had won an order for seven heavy-lift H215 helicopters, part of the Super Puma family, from an unnamed customer since the start of this year.

He pledged to review processes to raise safety across the offshore industry, which has suffered a series of incidents in recent years. More monitoring and sensors could play a role.

"We don't want to solve the problem and move forward...we want to grow out of this crisis much strong and much better," he said.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher, Cyril Altmeyer; editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Jason Neely)

 
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