Robinson Helicopter Company held deliveries of the turbine-powered R66 light-single steady at 77 last year, even as rival Bell introduced the 505 Jet Ranger X into service, says chief executive John Robinson.
The $900,000 R66 entered the market shortly after Bell retired its nearest competitor – the 206 Jet Ranger – in 2010, giving the Robinson model a near-monopoly in the weight class.
But with the return of Bell to the segment it helped pioneer, an impact on the R66's sales had been expected.
According to Robinson, however, the effect has only been positive. "Actually, it being out there, so people can fly it and they're not just hearing rumours, it has helped our sales," he says.
The 505 is sold with a list price of $1.3 million, but some popular options drive the price tag higher. Robinson says the standard price is usually about $1.5 million, or about 50% higher than Bell's original goal of fielding a $1 million competitor to the R66.
"Now when they see what it is and they actually look at it, and if it's right for them they're going to get it. If the R66 is right for them, they're going to buy it," Robinson says. "So now these buyers don't have that fear, doubt and uncertainty. That's what I think has been driving us crazy more than anything else."
The 505’s arrival has coincided with the completion of a list of long-planned improvements for the R66. By the end of March, Robinson expects to receive airworthiness certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration for a new cargo hook with a 544kg (1,200lb) capacity. The upgrade has been in certification testing for four years, but arrives just as Bell works on integrating a similar capability to the 505, albeit with a 680kg capacity.
Robinson also certificated last July a new high-definition video camera payload for R66 aircraft operated by television news stations, Robinson says.