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Thursday, April 1, 2004

A New Aircraft for the Market?

Having yielded the training market to Robinson and Schweizer, Enstrom is now weighing a new model to get into the mix.

Mention helicopter trainers and The talk eventually turns to Robinsons and Schweizers.

Frank Robinson kick-started the initial training market with the R22, the operating costs of which made training a more viable business.

Schweizer developed its 300CB to compete-winning a market position through flight schools and students intimidated by the Robinsons' requirement to operate under a special regulation.

A variety of other aircraft are used for initial training, including a few Bell 47s. Not many people, though, speak of Enstroms and initial trainers in the same breath. But Enstrom is considering trying to change that. Executives at the Menominee, Michigan helicopter maker are seriously weighing a shot at the trainer market, according to Bayard duPont, Enstrom's director of product support.

That market "is not really a place anyone wants to be," duPont said. "I don't think Robinson wants to be in the training market all that much. But if you can get a guy trained in your aircraft," the odds are better that he'll eventually buy one of your aircraft.
The trainer market hasn't been a focus of Enstrom's in recent years. Higher priorities included getting its financial house and management in order and increasing production. Those matters appear to have been addressed.

Last November Enstrom named Jerry M. Mullins as its president and CEO. Formerly head of Heli-Dyne Systems Inc., Mullins succeeded Peter Parsinen, who had been interim president since the departure in early 2003 of Steve Daniels.
In 2003, Enstrom nearly doubled production, making 17 helicopters compared to nine in 2002. It has nearly tripled production since 2000. It said that this year it expects to make 32 helicopters, with production sold out until the fourth quarter. So, 2005 may be the year to focus on new priorities, duPont said. "It's a question of allocating resources. Next year, production will settle down."

A move on the trainer market would require "taking an existing aircraft and shrinking it to a slightly smaller, lighter airframe" to bring both manufacturing and operating costs.

The R22 has a gross weight of 1,370 lb., a useful load of 515 lb., and a maximum rate of climb (ROC) of 1,000 fpm. with its Lycoming O-360-J2A engine derated to 131 shp. The 300CB has a gross weight of 1,750 lb., a useful load of 662 lb. and a maximum ROC of 1,250 fpm. with its 180-shp. Lycoming HO-360-C1A.

By comparison, Enstrom's 280FX and F28F each has a max. take-off weight of 2,600 lb. The 280FX has a useful load of 1,015 lb. and a max. climb of 1,450 fpm. with its 225-shp. HO-360-F1AD. The F28F has a useful load of 1,030 lb. and the same max. climb with the same engine.

Enstrom doesn't see any showstoppers to development of a trainer model based on one of those aircraft, duPont said. It's really a matter of whether the company wants to invest in that development and when it chooses to make that investment.
In the meantime, Enstrom is reviewing its approach to the methods and procedures used in training pilots of its aircraft. Together with Roger Sharkey of Sharkey's Helicopters in Lebanon, New Hampshire, duPont is reviewing accident reports and surveying instructors to identify potential shortcomings in training, he said.

"If you look at the accidents in a year's time, a significant number happen during training. We feel a significant number of them could be avoided. Our goal is to try to reduce those accidents."

The work could result in a more standardized training program for Enstrom instructors, incorporating methods and procedures effective in paring down the number of accidents during training and other flights.

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