What sequester? Civil market gives Robinson confidence

March 7, 2013

Amidst widespread anxiety at Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo over the fate of government contracts, Robinson Helicopter remains unconcerned, CEO Kurt Robinson told reporters at a media briefing March 5.

Robinson said deep cuts in federal agencies, which other manufacturers reported have left contracts unsigned and call into question new orders, validate his company’s decision to stay committed to the civilian market.

“The word ‘sequester’ doesn’t do anything to me,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this year and how our sales are moving forward.”

Many helicopter manufacturers rely on military contracts to compensate for slowdowns in the civilian market and are now looking to growth in the civilian sector to offset lost U.S. military sales as the government implements automatic spending cuts from the sequester. But civilian helicopter manufacturer Robinson reported strong production numbers in 2012 and said it expects production to increase in 2013.

Robinson produced 191 R66s, 286 R44s, and 40 R22s in 2012, with 70 percent of sales outside the United States, Robinson said. Production of R66s is up to six per week, Robinson said, and increased production of the turbine model is not coming at the expense of the piston R44. “The R66 is not cannibalizing sales of the R44,” he said.

He also noted that the company had recently made a step forward in its efforts to certify the turbine R66 outside the United States, namely in Canada, Europe, and Russia.

The FAA originally certified the aircraft with an exemption for its hydraulic system from the regulation requiring that “If a power boost or power-operated control system is used, an alternate system must be immediately available that allows continued safe flight and landing in the event of (1) Any single failure in the power portion of the system.” Robinson said other countries did not accept the exemption for their certification, so the company sought an equivalent level of safety finding from the FAA. Since the R66 system, based on the system of the R44, is not redundant, the company had to prove with extensive testing that the pilot could easily retain maneuverability in the event of a failure, he said. The FAA recently issued the finding, which Robinson expects to help with foreign certification efforts.

Robinson also explained that the company is working with Lycoming to get approval for unleaded fuel in its piston models. He could not say exactly which fuels were under consideration, but the engine manufacturer has already achieved approval to use UL 91 in several of its engine models in Europe.