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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: RotorWay to Build FAA-Certified Turbine

COMMERCIAL

In the midst of what some are calling the Great Recession, kit helicopter builder RotorWay has unveiled plans to manufacture an FAA-certified, two-seat turbine helicopter. Announced by RotorWay CEO Grant Norwitz at Heli-Expo 2009, the turbine two-seater will use a Rolls-Royce RR300 turboshaft engine (300shp rated takeoff and 240shp rated cruise). It is a radical departure from the company’s reliance on kit built, piston-powered aircraft sales.

When asked by Rotor & Wing why he would enter the turbine market when the economy is in dire straits, Norwitz quipped, "First of all, you are assuming that we have an economy." Becoming serious, RotorWay’s CEO said, "The economy is going to recover. It’s cyclical and it has been for years." What matters, he continued, is getting "into the market at the right time," and, as far as RotorWay is concerned, now is the right time to build an affordable two-seat turbine helicopter.

Even in bad times, "People don’t want to stop flying," Norwitz explained. "Besides, there’s about to be a huge release of military people supported by a VA bill who will keep flying." At $80 an hour, small turbine helicopters are a "very affordable" form of flying, he said. Add the fact that people who fly big turbine helicopters don’t want to pay $800-$1,000 and an hour to keep their flight status, and the new RotorWay turbine is well-placed to garner sales.

"We are right at the forefront of being able to use our new helicopter as a proper trainer and, we believe, inexpensively," Norwitz declared. Add the fact that RotorWay has the necessary financing in place, and he believes that his company will prosper by moving into the FAA-certified rotorcraft market, recession notwithstanding.

Ray Jaworowski, a senior aerospace analyst with Forecast International, sees a lot of substance to Norwitz’s arguments. "The FAA certification process can be long and costly, and often proves to be one of the main stumbling blocks for any company that attempts to break into the market," he told Rotor & Wing. "That being said, though, RotorWay has a long history in the kit built helicopter sector and, as such, is in a relatively good position to make the leap into marketing and producing a certificated turbine helicopter."

In terms of the actual helicopter itself, "The Rolls-Royce RR300 is a promising new engine that has also been chosen by Robinson for its new R66," Jaworowski said. "In addition, RotorWay’s acquisition of PMC should help RotorWay control and oversee part of its component supply chain, potentially enabling the company to avoid some of the supplier problems that have tripped up other manufacturers in the past." Based in Phoenix, PMC Machining and Manufacturing is an ISO9000:2000- and AS9100-certified maker of aerospace and OEM machined parts.

As to Norwitz’s belief that a new two-seat turbine helicopter can be successfully launched in the current economy, "The present environment in the civil rotorcraft market, as well as the larger economic and financial picture, makes the launch of any new product difficult for a variety of reasons," Jaworowski replied. "Still, manufacturers do often launch new models in the midst of a down market as a way to kick-start sales and to be ready with a new product when the market does finally recover."

More importantly, Ray Jaworowski does believe that a market is developing "for a new, low-cost turbine helicopter that can provide better performance than the pistons, yet at a lower cost than existing turbines," he said. "The two-seat configuration of the new RotorWay model does limit, somewhat, the variety of roles and missions for which it can be used. But there are nevertheless a wide variety of applications for which a two-seater has utility."

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