Just two days after the second Rolls-Royce RR300-powered Robinson R66 made its first flight in February, Robinson Helicopter CEO Frank Rob- inson still had little good to say about small turbine-powered helicopters.
The helicopter industry isn’t immune to the terrible trouble affecting the global economy, but if Heli-Expo’09 is any indication, the greater diversity among operators of the world’s helicopter fleets helped deliver record high attendance and exhibitor activity.
Despite all the gloom about the recession, this year’s Heli-Expo in Anaheim, Calif., easily exceeded all expectations when it ended on Tuesday, with record attendance of 17,995 people, up from last year’s record total of 17,373. Exhibitor numbers also climbed a strong 12 percent, to 585 from last year’s 523, and the show exhibit area and static display included 65 helicopters.
Rolls-Royce, in its annual 10-year market forecast, sees a market characterized by near-term softness followed by a resumption of growth. Over the period, total helicopter deliveries are predicted to be 15,800, a slight increase on the figure from last year’s forecast.
The second Robinson R66 made its first flight on February 18, marking an important milestone for a company dealing with the affects of the economic downturn. Weekly output at Robinson has fallen from 17 to 12 helicopters, with the number expected to go lower still. In January the company began laying off workers at a rate of 50 per month, the maximum allowed by law without having to give 60-days’ notice.
Most HAI press conferences involve stone-faced CEOs reading from note cards. They are accompanied by their entourage of aides and fellow executives, piles of handouts and elaborate audiovisual presentations. It’s all quite serious.
This is not how Frank Robinson gives a press conference.
Helicopter sales and services company Hillsboro Aviation (Booth No. 3568) announced a record-setting year for its helicopter sales department. Sales of both new and used helicopters topped $66 million in 2008, including four new Bell 412EPs, five new Bell 407s, two new Bell 206L4s and seven new Robinson R44s.
The second Robinson R66 made its first flight on February 18 and a third is under construction at the company’s headquarters in nearby Torrance, Calif. All Heli-Expo’09 attendees are invited to the Robinson factory on Tuesday for facility tours beginning at noon followed by a preview of the R66 at 3 p.m.
Frank Robinson, who turned 79 in January, likes to joke about his employees forcing him into retirement to pay him back for asking a former employee to retire at age 80. However, it is difficult to imagine Robinson Helicopter without Frank Robinson at the helm, although his children Terry and Kurt occupy leadership positions at the Torrance, Calif. company.
For Robinson Helicopter, switching from aluminum to stainless-steel skin for main rotor blades has been “a mixed bag,” said company vice president Kurt Robinson, who defended the move on the grounds that the change means lighter and stronger blades with better corrosion resistance. But critics argue that the stainless skins do not hold paint well and that the switch from aluminum