Interview with Kurt Robinson, CEO, Robinson Helicopter

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...


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. And that's because money was tight. People that actually had loans with banks defaulted on them. Banks said, ‘I know I told you before that I was going to give you money but I'm not going to now.’

And so we watched for a couple of years; there was this incredible tightening economically all over the world. Since then we've watched it loosen up and the markets start to get better and sales start to return in different countries. A lot of it depended on their own economies. One of the first to come out of it was clearly Australia because they were mining their ore and selling it to China which was doing good, and that was helping Australia which helped New Zealand.

Other parts of the world have started to recover but you still have Europe which isn't exactly doing great, and the U.S. is muddling as we all know. But other places are doing fairly well, and over the next four or five years I expect the (world) economy to slowly improve and for things to pick up.

Internally at our company 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 R66 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.

So we got that certified in October 2010 and sales have been very strong. This year I expect that we will, we have already delivered 230 of them, by the end of the year be close to delivering 250 R66s in a completely new market that will help us grow. So we're very optimistic about the future.

AMT: What's your estimate of the market for piston-powered helicopters?

KR: The R22 has been a little slower to pick up, but the R44 picked up fairly quickly in late 2010, early 2011, and it’s been holding steady. It’s not nearly at the levels seen in 2006, 2007, and 2008. We were up around 600 R44s 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 R66 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, and South America, a little bit; and South Africa has also been a very good market. Some of the other areas haven't been as strong.

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 R66 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 R66 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: Can any Robinson Helicopters be flown IFR?

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