Bucking the belt-tightening trend of their larger US contemporaries, low-cost helicopter manufacturers Enstrom, Robinson and Schweizer have signalled plans to raise production.

Led largely by healthy sales of its newly developed R44 Raven II, Robinson plans to raise R22 and R44 production from seven a week to "10 or 11 a week by May", says president Frank Robinson.

Robinson production fell in 2002, with 255 helicopters delivered against 328 in 2001.Orders have now picked up. "The Raven II in particular has caught on more than anticipated, with around 130 orders, and now it has carried over to the Raven I and R22. We are really optimistic about 2003," Robinson says. The upturn is attributed to the surge in Raven II deliveries following a two-month delay in certification to November 2002, low interest rates and the US dollar's weakness - 60% of Robinson's helicopters are exported.

Enstrom, revitalised by a restructuring begun last year, believes21 helicopters could be delivered this year against seven in 2001 and nine last year. "We had 16 planned originally, but we've already got 10 sold so we will probably boost to 21 for the year," says company president Steven Daniels. Aside from growing prospects for new sales in Asia and Europe, Enstrom hopes to reach the 30-35 a year level by mid-2004. Sales are expected to be around a 60:40 mix between the turbine-powered 480B and the piston F28F Falcon and 280FX Shark.

Schweizer Aircraft, which admits to a disappointing year in 2002 with 35 deliveries, is hopeful of handing over around 45 helicopters in 2003. Piston-powered 300CBis are expected to take the lion's share, with up to 23 sales, while the slow-selling turbine-powered 333, which notched up only two deliveries in 2002, is expected to account for at least seven.

Source: Flight International