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Monday, April 1, 2013

Robinson Reports a Productive 2012, Promising 2013

By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large

Robinson CEO
Kurt Robinson at the
company’s Heli-Expo
2013 press briefing.
 

At its annual press conference held during Heli-Expo in March, Robinson Helicopter Co. President Kurt Robinson reported impressive 2012 sales for its three-model line of rotorcraft. Its new R66 turbine, sales-leading R44 piston, and two-seat R22 all kept the company’s 617,000-square-foot assembly plant in Torrence, Calif. busy throughout the year. And, according to its order book, sales should increase in 2013, in spite of various external economic issues.

“The economy for the last couple of years—whether it’s been domestic or foreign—has been quite a challenge for a lot of companies,” said Robinson, who took over as president when his father and company founder Frank Robinson retired several years ago. “Interestingly enough, I can tell you that it really hasn’t impacted us. Our sales were up last year, considerably.”

Robinson reported that the 517 helicopters sold in 2012 represent a 45 percent increase over the 356-unit figure for the previous year. New aircraft deliveries consisted of 191 R66s, 286 R44s, and 40 R22s. He attributed much of the company’s ability to remain productive in a struggling U.S. economy to robust sales in foreign markets—70 percent, according to his numbers. To support those aircraft, factory-authorized service centers increased from 422 to 433.

“South America was huge, Brazil in particular,” reported Robinson. “We had a lot of sales of all of our models down there, followed by Australia, Russia, and then finally South Africa.”

Robinson’s big project in 2012, however, was getting Equivalent Level of Safety (ELOS) certification from the FAA for the R66’s hydraulic control system. Normally, an aircraft must have a backup hydraulic system in case the primary one fails or becomes jammed. Robinson engineers, however, were able to prove that a pilot could still control an R66 if the hydraulics malfunctioned, thus avoiding the need for a redundant system, entirely. This earned the R66 an ELOS certification in February of 2013, which Robinson hopes will clear the way for the aircraft to be approved in Canada, Europe and Russia. More than 300 R66 turbine-powered helicopters are now in operation, resulting in approximately 6,000 hours of flight time across the product line. With customer orders for new aircraft and demand for additional features running high, Robinson said the manufacturer is on track to beat its 2012 sales figures for helicopters.

The company will also use 2013 to put various upgrades into production, such as a cargo hook and floats for the R66, an optional 25-ampere battery for the R66, a fuel bladder system for the R22, and the latest Garmin touch-screen displays and communication suites for all of its models.

RHC will also move toward a more environmentally friendly helicopter. “We are going to try—hopefully within the first half of [2013]—to have Lycoming give us approvals on all of our pistons engines so they can operate on unleaded fuel,” said Robinson. “I not only think it environmentally the right thing to do, it kind of bothers me that it hasn’t been done. I think it’s worth doing.”

Related: Airframe News

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