Robinson Targets ‘Stable’ 300 Helicopters Per Year
ATLANTA—Robinson Helicopters aims to steady annual production of its light helicopter family at around 300 aircraft as it continues to see a rebound in deliveries for the third year in a row.
For 2022, the California-based manufacturer saw 258 deliveries compared to 244 in 2021 and 177 in 2020. “A year ago, I was trying to get us to go to 300 and I thought I could do it but wasn’t able to achieve that. But we did make progress and we’re pretty proud of that,” says company president Kurt Robinson, who adds that supply chain issues have hampered output.
The helicopter-maker, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, saw deliveries last year of 15 R22s, 101 turbine-powered R66s and 142 R44s; of which 86 were Raven IIs, 51 Raven Is and 5 Cadets.
Some 67% of the deliveries were outside of the U.S., with 33% sold domestically. That puts 2022 close to the company’s well-established average pattern of 70:30 international-domestic sales over recent years. In all, Robinson has now delivered more than 13,500 aircraft, of which 1,200 are R66s.
Noting the rising popularity of the Rolls-Royce RR300-powered version, Robinson says deliveries of the R66 exceeded the R44 Raven II for the first time. “Now that operators are getting comfortable with the aircraft and realizing and appreciating the R66’s capabilities, we expect sales to not only continue but to increase. We have orders for over 130 and I expect to try and get all those out in this coming year.”
In all, the company’s order backlog currently stands at over 350 helicopters. “So, if we only did 258 last year you can imagine that we are sold out for the year,” Robinson says. “I would like that not to be true and we are trying to do everything we can to increase deliveries of aircraft. Our current production rate is three R66s per week, three-and-a-half R44s per week and one R22 every two weeks.”
To make its supply chain demands more predictable, Robinson would like to raise production to around 300 helicopters per year and maintain that level for successive years. However, supplier issues continue to slow down these plans, the president adds. Headcount has increased by 58 over the year “and we are now back to our pre-COVID levels with total employment right now at 1,030. We are targeting overall employment of 1,100 by the end of the year. It’s a slow process but frankly the in-house labor has not been our constraint as much as difficulties with our suppliers. And we were pushing in that area as the economy has come back to life and has grown,” Robinson says.
The company also renewed its call for the development of an unleaded replacement for the high octane aviation fuel used in its piston-powered products. “This is long overdue,” Robinson says. “It needs to happen in our industry and we all have to put I think, a greater sense of urgency on working together and getting collaboration and cooperation to get this solved.” The issue particularly impacts the R44 Raven II, which is powered by the Lycoming fuel-injected iO 540 high performance engine. “We are working with the different manufacturers and continue to work with Lycoming to develop a solution. We see this whole area as remaining a top priority,” he adds.
Another long-running alternative fuel study continues into the use of diesel. “We think it has a lot of value but there’s a lot of issues with it—a lot of things that have to be solved,” Robinson continues. “But we’re still optimistic that we can resolve them, and we continue to work on various diesel engines. We would love to find something that we could wrap into the R44, but if you look at what’s currently available, there’s issues with everything and of course you have higher weight, you have vibration, you have other issues that have to be contended with. But we have not forgotten it.”
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