Robinson Looks Toward Resurgence

 - March 6, 2011, 11:40 AM

Following a watershed year that marked the retirement of company founder Frank Robinson, the certification and first deliveries of its new R66 turbine single and its worst sales numbers since 1987, Robinson Helicopter (Booth No. 2928) is positioning itself for strengthening sales and new product development. “I can’t think of anything bad to say,” Frank Robinson said at a press conference here before turning the podium over to his son, Kurt.

Frank Robinson retired on August 10 as president and chairman of the board. He founded the company in 1973 and was replaced by Kurt Robinson, who has worked at Robinson since 1987. Kurt Robinson holds an undergraduate economics degree from the University of California, San Diego as well as an MBA and law degree from the University of San Diego and he is a licensed commercial helicopter pilot. Kurt Robinson said his management style would be collaborative. “We have a team of people here now who run the company and my role is to work with that team.”

Kurt Robinson faces immediate challenges. Just two years after posting record annual deliveries of 893 helicopters, Robinson saw its 2010 sales plummet to 162 units. The total included 10 R66s, 40 R22s and 112 R44s. Robinson’s robust spares business allowed it to maintain 1,000 employees during the downturn. The company also completed a 132,000-sq-ft plant expansion at its Torrance, Calif., site, bringing its total square footage under roof there to 617,000. “It allows us to increase our manufacturing capacity,” Kurt Robinson said. The new space will be used to expand the company’s cabin fabrication and welding departments.

Last year the company anticipated making 300 helicopters in 2011. The total includes an estimated three-per-month production of the newly certified R66 turbine single. Kurt Robinson said sales are exceeding that projection and that the company is currently making seven helicopters per week; one R22, four R44s and two R66s. Kurt Robinson said that the company already had delivered 20 R66s and anticipates increasing the helicopter’s production rate to three or four per week shortly. Robinson has signed 51 dealers for the R66 and has orders for 130. Kurt Robinson said the company is striving to sell several hundred of the turbine singles annually. “We are growing more confident by the day,” he said. “As you go forward you don’t stop if you have a vision and you know where you are going.”

Robinson said the company is evaluating glass-panel avionics for the R66, but that a decision would likely wait until after the R66 is certified in additional foreign markets and completes certification work on float, law enforcement, cargo hook and electronic news gathering packages. He said there are no plans to pursue an IFR certification for the helicopter, but added that it is currently undergoing cold weather and blowing snow testing in Canada.

The company received FAA certification of the R66 on October 25 and announced that the base price has increased to $798,000. It recently received FAA certification for factory air-conditioning on the helicopter, a $23,000 option. The 42-pound unit has a 17,000 BTU/hour cooling capacity. Air is distributed through an overhead console with vents for each seat. The system is controlled via a toggle switch with low and high fan settings and uses approximately three horsepower during operation. The evaporator and fan are mounted under the aft center seat, maintaining all four under-seat baggage areas. The compressor engages when the fan is switched on and automatically disengages during autorotation entry to maximize glide performance. An R66 equipped with air-conditioning is on display in the Robinson booth at Heli-Expo.