The OEM forum yesterday was drawing to a close when MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton strode into the room, late but exuding charm. Near the end of what had been a rather somber gathering, she managed to elicit a wave of laughter as she looked around for Robinson Helicopter president and CEO Frank Robinson. Frank may be a rock star in the helicopter industry, she allowed, adding, “But I’ve just finished signing 200 photographs–try and top that, Frank.”
Minutes later, Tilton was back at the MD booth, and the line of people waiting for autographs still stretched well back into the exhibit floor. Not quite as far as the Robinson exhibit, but far enough.
During yesterday’s MD Helicopters press conference, she gave a detailed assessment of where she believes the company is and where it’s going.
Tilton maintained that the company is coming off its best year “since I’ve been here” and that it is on track to deliver more than 70 new helicopters this year. She said its financial results for 2008 were “positive.”
Last year MD (Booth No. 555) delivered 52 new helicopters, 10 short of its stated goal, but considerably more that its recent best of 38 in 2000. Of the helicopters delivered in 2008, 12 were twin-engine MD 902s. Tilton reiterated that MD missed its overall delivery goal because of supply chain issues and the organizational distractions caused by dealing with two significant parts failure problems on the 902 last year, since rectified. Those involved the control cable to the Notar thruster and adapter tube for the vertical stabilizer control system fins mounted on the boom. Both were remedied through service bulletins and the issuance of new parts.
Tilton said MD’s supply chain and component quality was much improved as a result of the in-sourcing of more than 2,000 parts. She also said the program that shifted the manufacture of MD’s single-engine fuselages to Mexico is “running extremely well” after a start that she admitted was “rough at times.”
She also said a decision on whether to move MD’s main production plant from Mesa, Ariz., has yet to be made, although she expects to reach a decision on it next month and that she planned to announce it after talking to employees. However, she said if any plant move did occur, it would not be for at least two or two-and-a-half years.
Tilton said the company has no plans to introduce a new helicopter but is aggressively pursuing significant improvements to its current product lineup, including new composite main rotor blades, new cockpit avionics and composite engine bay doors. “We can do great things with just simple improvements,” she said.
Tilton added that MD would continue to “work with customers who want to work with us” and is pursuing a targeted sales strategy in markets that are good for the company, including Brazil, Mexico and the Middle East. She also said MD is still evaluating whether to pursue the Army’s armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) contract in partnership with Boeing, and said that MD would not chase the contract unless she thought it had a reasonable chance of winning it.
She also said the recent global credit crunch is not prompting MD to offer customer financing, at least in the near-term.–Kirby J. Harrison also contributed to this article.