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...

KR: No, we have a version that is set up as an IFR trainer but we don't actually have the redundancy required to fly them as a true IFR aircraft. And we don't want to go there. In the helicopter world you can fly special VFR and if it gets so bad you can't fly special VFR we'd just as soon see you put it on the ground.

AMT: At the management level, what is the RHC maintenance philosophy? For instance, field maintenance vs. factory maintenance; off-factory maintenance repair organizations (MRO), more maintenance vs. less maintenance, etc.?

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. These two right here (Pete Riedl, vice president of engineering and Pat Cox, technical support supervisor) that's what they spend a lot of their time on — to see what issues are out in the field and make certain that we address those issues so we have reliability built in to our helicopters.

After that, we want to say at 100 hours do this, at 1,000 hours do this, at 2,200 hours do this, and just fly in between and not really spend a lot of time on maintenance.

AMT: It sounds like the RHC program is built on a cornerstone of strong 100-hour inspections.

KR: That's right.

AMT: As an OEM, what best practices and lessons you've learned can you offer to the light aircraft maintenance industry?

"Read the manual," interjects Cox. "It's right in the front of every manual; Always read instructions completely before performing a task," he went on.

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. Once they meet Efrain or Pat they're a lot more likely to call when they forget how to do something. 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. As you can see, these two are together all the time and Pat's going to Pete and saying, "Hey, I'm seeing this issue out in the field; what do you think?"

Pete often goes to Pat and asks him to call the customer, or sends out a different part to see if that works better.

AMT: The customers can now contact RHC in many different ways.

"Yeah, the email and the internet have been a Godsend," says Cox.

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.

To get back to the original question, I can't tell you how many times I've seen Pat or another tech rep hang up the phone and say something like, "I can't believe the guy tried to do it that way."

AMT: Let's ask the same question and direct the answer toward the individual maintenance technician?

"Read the manual and when in doubt ask," replies Cox. "Rule No. 1 from a maintenance perspective is like Hippocratic which is do no harm."

AMT: Does RHC see any regulatory challenges specifically related to helicopter maintenance?

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