Edited due to space considerations; the full interview is available on www.AviationPros.com.
AMT: What’s your opinion of the overall industry right now?
KR: Overall I think the industry is pretty good, there’s no question that the 2008 recession, worldwide, that was huge. That hit us like I’ve never seen. Typically when the United States is down we can count on Australia, China, or South America to lift us up. And that’s one of the few times in our existence when we saw the entire world go into a crunch.
Over the next four or five years I expect the (world) economy to slowly improve and for things to pick up.
Internally what we did when this whole thing hit is fairly typical; basically we said if we want to get sales back we can’t just rely on what we have. We were working on the R-66 so we doubled down our efforts and pushed engineering extra hard because we know that nothing helps sales like a new helicopter in our industry.
AMT: What’s your estimate of the market for piston-powered helicopters?
KR: The R-22 has been a little slower to pick up, but the R-44 picked up fairly quickly in late 2010, early 2011, and it’s been holding steady. They’re not nearly at the levels seen in 2006, 2007, and 2008. We were up around 600 R-44s per year then. This year we will probably do 250, something like that. So it’s come back but it’s not roaring.
AMT: It was mentioned that there are 300 back orders for the R-66 right now. Is that number fairly close?
KR: Somewhere around there. Right now we’re quoting at six helicopters a week. If you place an order now (in late November 2012) you’d be looking at late June or early July in next year to take delivery.
AMT: When I last visited, RHC was sending two out of three helicopters produced overseas. Is that still true?
KR: That’s still true. The overseas market really depends on the countries — it’s been very strong the last couple years in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, South America, a little bit; and South Africa has also been a very good market.
AMT: Any future products or initiatives you’d be willing to share?
KR: Our big thing right now is just trying to complete certification of the R-66 in the rest of the world. We’ve got quite a few certifications but we’re still missing in Russia, Europe, and Canada. So once we get those approved we expect sales to increase. Some of the other projects we’re working on is really filling out the R-66 line. We’re working on a float version and a cargo hook version. We’re looking at the whole avionics thing; I’d say a wide spectrum view of the glass panel; things like the Aspen, the Garmin 500. We’re looking at down the road being able to incorporate those into the line.
AMT: At the management level, what is the RHC maintenance philosophy?
KR: For one thing we want it to be predictable. If you’re running a company you want it to be predictable. Nobody likes it when a customer comes in on a Tuesday and you have to tell them I can’t go do that job for you because I’ve got a problem with the helicopter. So the reliability has been one of the things we are always working on.
AMT: It sounds like the RHC program is built on a cornerstone of strong 100-hour inspections.
KR: That’s right.
AMT: Will you comment on your maintenance classes?
KR: All of our dealers and service centers are required to send the mechanic to the factory, and we don’t do that just so they can add up some frequent flyer miles. We like to have them come here so they can meet the instructors like Efrain (Vargas), Pat Cox, and the tech reps, and they see everything here so when they have questions out in the field they call or they email. They can say, “Hey, this looks different to me,” or “I forget how to do this,” so we can help them. We really do want our dealers and people working on our aircraft to ask questions and let us know so we can help them out.
AMT: So it’s a work together philosophy?
KR: Yeah, especially if they’re seeing something unusual in the field so we know it.
AMT: The customers can now contact RHC in many different ways.
KR: We have machines back in our experimental department that are running 24 hours a day doing fatigue testing on components. But no matter how much we do here, and how much testing we do, until you take that helicopter and you send it to the South Pole or wherever it’s going to go and let it operate in that environment, we just don’t know. That to me, is what the 66 is going through now. The 22 has been out there 30 years and it’s pretty rare to have someone in the field see something that we haven’t seen before. Here in Southern California we can’t duplicate the things they run into in the field and we can’t duplicate what a mechanic is going to do.
AMT: Does RHC see any regulatory challenges specifically related to helicopter maintenance?
KR: Most countries or people that work on helicopters outside the United States have to get the equivalent of a Part 145 (repair station); we made that a requirement as far as the R-66. We weren’t sure how that would go over but we felt that having a true maintenance organization when you’re dealing with a $800,000 helicopter made some sense to us. We wanted to cut out the people that just wanted to sell helicopters and not maintain them so we felt that by having a Part 145 (requirement) we could bring the inspector and all the requirements that are necessary.
We were stunned when everyone said, oh yeah that’s what we want to do. Everybody overseas said we already have that. The surprised us. I’m surprised that here in the U.S. they don’t push for a little more stringent levels.
And all the fatal accidents because of non inspection have been in the United States.