Heli-Expo 2010: Robinson's new baby leads the way
Robinson Helicopter is confident that its new turbine R66 can buck the downturn in the civil helicopter market, pick up where the Bell JetRanger left off and also find a new market of its own.
Speaking to Rotorhub.com at the Heli-Expo exhibition in Houston, company founder Frank Robinson said he was certain the R66 could help "turn us around very nicely", providing prospective customers can gain access to reasonable financing in the coming months.
‘I am very, very pleased with the R66's flying quality - reliability, availability and economy of operations - all of these things are very, very favourable. It's an easy transition from the R44 to the R66. We think it is going to be very popular,’ Robinson said.
He said the aircraft had attracted significant interest at the exhibition and the announcement of the price of $770,000 had also been received favourably. The company plans to initially produce two aircraft per week, once it is fully certified – a development Robinson said was ‘very close’.
‘It is a very nice helicopter – I couldn’t find anything I was unhappy or uncertain about. It is going to be a little bit smoother, a little bit quieter and a little bit faster than the R44.’
Robinson said the company had found 2009 ‘very tough’ and the only thing that prevented them from finding the downturn a lot tougher was the record two or three years that preceded the financial crisis.
‘Luckily that meant we were very healthy and in a very good condition to survive the crisis. It was a difficult year but all our ships were sold off during the year.
‘The problem was those damn bankers – rather than provide loans to people like they were supposed to, they used the $700 billion bail-out money to make acquisitions, to buy other companies, and give themselves bonuses.’
With capital not going back into the market, many of Robinson helicopter’s customers were unable to complete purchases during 2009 and lost their deposit.
However, the company since had come out the other side and was now ‘doing fine’, but Robinson repeated that he still hoped to see someone hold the banks to the terms and conditions of the bailout money.
In terms of international sales, Robinson Helicopter intends to concentrate on its traditional markets – the company’s aircraft are the most common Western helicopters in Russia for example – and was not looking to force its way yet in emerging markets such as China.
‘China is the new thing right now. It will be a substantial market but I am not sure it is quite as viable yet as some people think it is. The thing with China is there are so many restrictions on where you can fly helicopters – it is one of the most restrictive countries in the world in that sense – and there are no signs of this changing any time soon.’
Tony Skinner, Houston
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