The Italian high-end VIP and business air-services company Air Corporate recently introduced the Airbus H160 into its fleet to become the first VIP H160 operator in Europe. It is increasing the fleet as part of a significant purchase program over several years, further raising the standard of luxury helicopter operations.

A Conversation

Air Corporate was formed around 25 years ago following inflight conversations between the company’s owner and Paolo Serini, then the pilot of the owner’s personal H145. They considered that Europe was ripe for flexible, high-end aviation and financial services, and subsequently established and built Air Corporate into what now fields a wide range of business aircraft, both fixed-wing and helicopter. The company employs around 70 people, of which 32 are pilots. It offers VVIP charter, rental and dry lease services, alongside aircraft sales and management, establishing a solid clientele of high net-worth individuals and organizations that demand the very highest levels of service and luxury. “We offer our clients the opportunity to buy a helicopter, but we also rent out our own helicopters for a customer’s exclusive use, with their pilot from their own base, without the necessity of buying a machine,” Serini elaborated.

Thanks to Serini, all Air corporate’s aircraft have attractive, luxurious interiors that utilize only the finest materials. He personally designed the interior of the company’s Challenger and, as an example, explained that when the carpets were offered in wool, he changed the specification to virgin wool, a more expensive but more luxurious option. “These are all things that our customers see and notice. We choose only the best beverages, the best food and fly every time with the fresh flowers. This is all important because you are buying exclusivity, so we have to offer exclusivity.” The company does not specify the number of pilots for its services as customer demands vary between one and two-pilot operations.

Airbus and a bespoke H160

The company first tested Airbus’ new H160 in 2018 and decided to take on the type. Serini, who has amassed some 15,000 flight hours during his 36 years of flying and is now the company CEO said, “We think that the helicopter is the future, and it has 63 new patents,” he noted in support of this view. “At that time, we recognized the potential to develop the helicopter and we bought our first one in 2020.” Serini explained that, because the company specialized in passenger transport, it communicated to Airbus its need for an attractive, light machine with excellent performance. “We felt that their ‘exclusive’ version was power-limited because, although it is very beautiful, it is very heavy at 4,600kg. We bought a single example first and the deal with Airbus was that we’d buy the machine if they then worked with me to develop what we want. So now we have our version that is 630kg lighter than the exclusive.”

Air Corporate – and Serini in particular – cooperated with Airbus to develop this variant of the H160, a world’s-first version designated ‘lounge-bespoke’. Serini designed the interior and parts of the cabin, a program that incurred about two years of delay for development and certification of the 3,970kg machine. Air Corporate’s first lounge-bespoke example only entered service in late March this year and illustrating the effect of the delay is its #27 serial number, whereas the standard Airbus versions #51 and #52 are already being delivered. “It is very important under EASA rules to meet performance class-1 for passenger transport and this version can carry six passengers, two pilots and full fuel at 35oC, and still maintain class-1 performance,” he said. After initial interior designs and renderings were carried out with Airbus, build work was contracted to Mecaer Aviation Group, who carried out the prototype build and materials specification, crash tests and flight tests.

The company has ordered a total of six H160s so far, with the last being due for delivery in 2027. Serini added that after the first pair of lounge-bespoke aircraft have entered service, an order will be placed for an additional two. The six ordered H160s cost somewhere between 80 and 100 million euros and form a portion of combined orders for 82 helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft over three years, totaling about 800 million euros. The last of those orders was signed at EBACE 2023 for a total of 46 helicopters, the largest single helicopter order in Airbus’ history. Not all the new aircraft will be operated in Italy as the market is too small. Air Corporate however, operates in other parts of the world, including Greece and North Africa.

Other Aircraft

As part of its extensive fleet, Air Corporate already operates the AW139, 109 and 169. Serini explained that the ACH160 was an ideal replacement for the AW139. “The AW139 is powerful and reliable – just what you want – but it is a 30-year-old project. We believe that all those old machines will have a turn-around in the near future and this new machine is much cheaper to operate. The inspection intervals are much longer, and the components have a much greater service life.” He estimated that at around 250 flying hours per year, the H160’s overall operating cost is around 3,000 euros [an hour] including financial costs, whereas the AW139 is much more expensive. “We think that the H160 will also be a great alternative to the Dauphin. There were (sic) 15 or 16 Dauphins in Italy because the market is very strong, so we believe that there is a very real possibility to see 10 or 11 H160s in Italy.”

“We have started proposing this to our client-base and the response has already been very positive, with immediate requests from 10 or 12 existing customers who want to use or rent the lounge-bespoke aircraft.” He added that he had had to decline some requests for extended hires to allow access to the single aircraft for the greatest number of clients. The first example completed 50 flight hours in only its first 22 days and during that time flew to numerous destinations, including Rome, Sardinia, Monte Carlo, Nice and Portofino. According to Serini, the customer response has been overwhelmingly positive. The floor of the lounge-bespoke is sheathed in wood, a new idea that Serini explained is not only practical, light and easy to maintain and clean; it does not produce any odor and is also aesthetically pleasing, especially in conjunction with the plush white leather upholstery, which is cleaned after every flight to maintain its immaculate appearance.

“The machine is great,” Serini opined. “The interior is extremely comfortable for the passengers, and it flies with virtually no vibration. It is also great for the pilot, and it feels almost as if you are flying in an aeroplane. It is very fast, with a cruise speed of 160kts, and it is very agile and easy for the pilot to fly.” Although flights so far have been predominantly within Italy, Serini stressed that the H160’s high speed and extended endurance made possible much longer flights than usually achievable by other machines in its class. “At its economic cruise speed of 140kts, this helicopter can fly for four hours and ten minutes,” he advised. “Even at maximum continuous power, you have an endurance of three hours and twenty minutes.”


According to Serini, the H160 is very reliable because Airbus tested it for so long. “The first prototype flew back in 2012 so there is already 12 years of testing and development behind it. The prototype had a moving stabilizer, and it didn’t have this engine. Turbomeca developed this engine specifically for the H160 and it is very light for an engine in the 1,400hp class. It is also the world’s first helicopter engine to have two in-line centrifugal compressors, and yet it is only 47cm longer.” The first lounge-bespoke has rear-cabin seating for just six people, in two captain’s chairs and a four-person bench seat. Although the type can be configured for eight to ten passengers, Serini stated that the typical VIP clientele only want to fly two or three people. “The first two examples will both be six-person interiors and the third will be for eight people.

Originally, I was going to buy a 10-place helicopter but then realized that it was not the right way to go so our maximum will be eight passengers.” The large luggage compartment has a weight capacity of 300kgs and is large enough to carry up to five large trolley-cases and four or five smaller cases.

Serini is particularly complimentary of the H160’s autopilot, which automatically returns the helicopter to its exact takeoff position in the event of an engine failure prior to TDP (takeoff decision point), or if after TDP, continues the takeoff automatically. “It is even possible to put the wheels on the ground with the autopilot simply by turning one knob.” The H160 is incredibly safe, due to its many protections and automated systems. For example, the landing gear senses slope angle, the aircraft automatically reduces speed when turning on the instrument approach, the active air collision avoidance system (ACAS) mitigates the risk of in-flight collision, and the ground proximity warning and avoidance system protects from inadvertent flight into terrain.

The H160’s high level of system automation makes for a greatly reduced pilot workload and Serini cited the elimination of unnecessary information from the primary flight display as an example. “The workload for a pilot is very, very low in this helicopter. You don’t need to constantly monitor engine and transmission temperatures and pressures, when the system is going to give you an alarm as soon as there is a significant variation.” The aircraft’s ability to automatically reconfigure in the event of a failure or failures also makes many pilot-controlled measures redundant and Serini observed that a reduced workload makes for increased safety. Airbus’ wireless Airborne Communication System (wACS) constantly transmits a full range of data to both Airbus and the operator’s ground station in real time. This includes all engine and transmission operating parameters, vibrations and all flight parameters, providing Airbus with a huge amount of data that will also help immensely with ongoing development.


Although Air Corporate could easily find sufficient work for additional examples, Serini explained that it is only the company’s years of experience in the sector and its solid, loyal client base that create this scenario. The risk of competition is therefore of little concern as he pointed out that another operator would find it extremely difficult to secure sufficient high-end work to warrant the high expense of purchasing H160s and establishing a VIP operation. “The cost is a major factor as an AW139 costs two million less than the H160 and after 25 years in VIP transport we have the most important families in Italy as our customers, already renting them such older helicopters. That makes it very difficult for another operator to buy one helicopter like this.”

Serini stated that the H160 is very powerful, smooth and stable in turbulence, very fast without vibration and easy to operate with the inbuilt electronic flight manual. He claims that he has found absolutely no negative aspects to the machine so far and is completely satisfied with it. Unusually for a company CEO, although Serini has a background in business, he is an active company pilot and is also a technician. He has completed the H160 technician’s conversion, so he is able to conduct the 50-hour inspections on his own but explained that Airbus Italy also has a technician dedicated to Air Corporate. “That is so they can oversee the aircraft as our operation is very important to them. They know we will use the aircraft in IFR, for long distances and at high speeds, so they want the feedback from Air Corporate about all the things that they don’t yet know very well from intensive use.” Serini has also been active in developing simulator systems and he advised that a full-motion simulator for the H160 is being developed in conjunction with flight simulator manufacturer Entrol, and is planned to have it in service by mid-2025.

A CEO that controls the company business, flies, cleans and services the aircraft, and communicates directly with all levels of company personnel, Serini must be unique among CEOs of companies the size of Air Corporate. “It is important to me that I do everything and that my head stays the same size as when I was just a pilot,” he remarked. Regarding the H160, he commented, “With this machine, my greatest satisfaction is that it is my creation. I designed the interior, and I created the paint scheme with pencil on paper, not with the computer. To fly it is satisfying but after 15,000 flight hours, a helicopter is a helicopter so the creative side of it is the most satisfying aspect for me.”

“To pilot what you create is special.”