Production ramp-up slow for two-seat Cabri

 - December 29, 2009, 8:53 AM

Hélicoptères Guimbal, the France-based manufacturer that is offering a more modern, pricier alternative to existing piston-engine helicopters (see AIN, November 2008, page 76), is seeing slow progress in sales and production, apparently feeling the down economy.

The Cabri two-seater, which sells for €260,000 ($350,000), could, in theory, be delivered at a rate of one per month. The company has increased production parts inventory to streamline the process, founder and CEO Bruno Guimbal told AIN recently, but some challenges remain before the company can reach the targeted production rate. First, Guimbal needs four or five more employees to deliver one helicopter per month. The company hopes to reach a production rate of two per month by the end of this year, providing this ramp-up can be funded.

Guimbal has taken firm orders for five helicopters since June.

In addition, some potential customers would like to take delivery immediately, paying in cash because they have adequate funding now but are not sure their bank will support them six months from now.

Héli Challenge, a company that specializes in aerial work and flight training, has ordered a second Cabri. Héli Challenge instructor Christian Jacquot told AIN the company has flown 90 hours in the Cabri in four months. Also, one private customer ordered its own Cabri after evaluating Héli Challenge’s.

Another promising customer is Eurocopter. The manufacturer took delivery of its first Cabri, the fifth production copy, in November. It will be operated by Eurocopter Training Services (ETS) in Baden-Baden, Germany. Guimbal hopes that the sale will lead to future orders, from Eurocopter subsidiaries–such as American Eurocopter–that would use them for customer training. Guimbal, a former Eurocopter design engineer, has been touting the Cabri as a lead-in to the Eurocopter range of products.

The production rate is still below expectations, but at least Guimbal is now able to schedule precise delivery slots. One fleet order has been “restructured” recently, allowing Guimbal a clearer view of its production plans. For example, a Cabri ordered early last October would be delivered in “May or June.” Guimbal said it has orders for “seven or eight” helicopters but has “200 prospective customers.”

The first Cabri delivered under- went its 500-hour check last summer. “There was no major issue,” Guimbal said. He hopes one other customer will soon have a Part 145-approved maintenance workshop for the Cabri, offering support to third-party operators. The company recently received certification of the night VFR instrument panel, which almost all customers are now ordering, Guimbal said.