Enstrom Helicopters (Booth No. 8842) may not attract the attention of its higher-profile competitors in the civil rotorcraft segment, but the company has proven impressively resilient throughout its long history and many difficult times. Today, the Menominee, Mich.-based manufacturer has found success in overseas markets, a trend that newly named company president Tracy Biegler says began with delivery of the first of 18 turbine-powered 480B helicopters to the Indonesian National Police in 2004.
“Enstrom had never really looked into the training market before,” Biegler told AIN. “All the pieces were in place, but the company never pursued it. In a sense, the last 10 years have witnessed Enstrom Helicopters finding our niche in the marketplace, and more importantly, adjusting our company’s perception as a major player in the industry.”
The Indonesian order led to greater interest in Enstrom’s product line from the Asia-Pacific region, and soon additional contracts from Japan’s Ground Self Defense Force and the Royal Thai Army followed. In December 2013, Enstrom signed a 16-airframe order with the Venezuelan government to establish a training fleet for that country’s military.
Today, Enstrom forecasts a production goal of 40 helicopters in 2014, a 14-ship increase over last year, and the company’s order backlog extends into the third quarter of 2015. “Our growth has been pretty incremental, but we’ve seen some dramatic developments over the last three to four years,” Biegler added. “Those orders drove our [$8 million, 70,000-sq-ft] plant expansion announced last year, and have really changed the footprint around here.
“We also have another 10 to 15 helicopters going into China through our ownership sales network that we’re working on,” he noted, a welcome benefit from the company’s acquisition in early 2013 by Chongqing Helicopter Investment Co. (CQHIC). Biegler was quick to praise the relationship between Enstrom’s workforce in Michigan and the company’s Chinese owners.
“At this point, nothing has significantly changed in our ability to manage ourselves,” he added. “They recognize they purchased a company with its own operations and expertise. In addition to learning about each other’s cultures, we are also helping them understand the aviation business. This company would not be where it is today without the support of our ownership.”
The infusion of capital from CQHIC also allowed Enstrom to consider expansion into new market segments, including the introduction of products to fill industry segments that Biegler believes the competition have allowed to stagnate. Enstrom also remains focused on continuing development on its storied product line, comprised of the Lycoming-powered F28F Falcon and 280FX Shark and the Rolls-Royce turbine-equipped 480B. The company also offers special-use variants of each platform.
Biegler also expressed appreciation towards former company president Jerry Mullins, who Biegler succeeded at Enstrom’s helm at the beginning of February. He credited Mullins for setting the tone that drives Enstrom’s ongoing efforts to expand the company’s reach and influence in the civilian rotorcraft market.
“Jerry put in place a very high level of integrity and morale throughout our workforce,” Biegler concluded. “That attitude continues today at Enstrom Helicopters. This isn’t an atmosphere conducive to sitting back and dictating; everyone here rolls up their sleeves, and is asked to go above and beyond.”