HAI Convention News

Sikorsky has big plans for Schweizer subsidiary

 - February 21, 2007, 7:34 AM

Paul Schweizer seems to have taken well to his unfamiliar role as an employee. Some five months after Sikorsky bought his company, Schweizer joked about having to answer to a boss for the first time in 22 years, but he seemed liberated by the prospect of tackling a backlog that had grown too big for his little company to handle.

Now carrying a backlog of 73 helicopters, Schweizer can usually promise delivery only within a year–not good enough, according to the man who carries the company namesake. “Most people can wait about two or three months,” said Schweizer. “We’re just not supporting customers as well as we should. That’s going to change.”

Instead, in its new role as a Sikorsky subsidiary, Schweizer plans to double sales within three or four years, all the while cutting the waiting time on a delivery to three months. “We’re going to really have to focus on long-lead-time components,” said Schweizer. “We have to make sure the inventory is there.”

This year’s schedules place production at 77 helicopters, including fifty-five 333CBis, twelve 300Cs and ten 333s. By next year, it plans to double that rate. 

If that seems like a tall order, Sikorsky vice president Paul Martin said that the “lean” manufacturing processes his company practices will help Schweizer meet its goal without the need to add headcount. He also said that Sikorsky plans to invest heavily in its new subsidiary, and that it’s serious about keeping its promise not to burden Schweizer with bureaucracy. Such words must sound like music to the ears of a company long limited by its lack of financial muscle but used to doing things its own way.

“We needed a logical succession plan,” added Schweizer. “We didn’t have the industry clout and financial backing to do what we wanted to do.”

Under the new arrangement, Sikorsky plans to involve Schweizer heavily in research and development, giving the company a fifth “core business.” Borrowing half a phrase from his days at Lockheed, Martin referred to Schweizer as Sikorsky’s “Hawk Works.” “You’ll be seeing some dramatic announcements,” said the Sikorsky v-p.

Martin expressed particular enthusiasm about Schweizer’s Fire Scout UAV, gushing about its perfect safety record after more than 140 autonomous flights. Schweizer plans to deliver four of the vehicles to the Navy this year, the first in May. Most recently, Northrop awarded Schweizer a contract to build eight Fire Scouts for the U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) program. Schweizer expects to delivery all eight vehicles to Northrop Grumman next year for use in FCS system integration and related testing. If all goes according to plan, Northrop Grumman will deliver the vehicles to the Army as a part of the complete FCS program in 2014.

In the civil realm, Schweizer is delivering a new 300C to West Jordan, Utah-based High Desert Helicopters here this week. Other recent developments include the sale of ten 300CBi models to UK distributor Caseright. Caseright had already ordered five of the helicopters, the first of which it expects to deliver to a private owner in Sheffield, England, in two weeks, according to managing director Nick Tarrant. So far, Caseright has delivered four Schweizer 333 turbine-powered models to UK customers.