FRANK ROBINSON, owner and founder of Robinson Helicopter, says that inadequate training is the cause of the recent spate of rotor-strike accidents, affecting the company's R22 and R44 helicopters. "It's not a helicopter problem, it's a training problem," he says.

The US Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have "...misinterpreted the problem", he says, adding that the FAA "panicked" under "tremendous political pressure". As a result, Robinson argues that restrictions placed on the helicopters on 13 January by an FAA airworthiness directive (AD) should not have been placed in the Limitations Section of the operating manual (Flight International, 25-31 January). The ruling means that the wind and turbulence operating restriction applies to professional pilots, as well as students.

"All pilots have different skills, and we're going to work with the FAA to try and get that sorted out," Robinson says.

"We're going to fight the 25kt [45km/h] wind limit. We want it moved to the normal procedure section so that it becomes a discretionary thing. You can't hold a 4,000-5,000h pilot to the same limit as a student," he adds.

Robinson contends that the rest of the recommendations in the AD "...are actually quite good". These are aimed at preventing low RPM rotor stall and low g mast bumping, the two primary causes of accidents involving rotor blade-to-airframe contact.

To help combat the potential for low RPM rotor stall in the R22, the company is pushing for the mandatory retrofit of a collective-mounted RPM-governor, based on the unit used in the R44.

"What really needs to happen is that we must do a better job of training pilots," says Robinson. He is calling for regulation changes, to increase the number of hours required, to become a qualified helicopter-training instructor. The minimum number of helicopter flight hours, now needed to qualify as an instructor, is 50. "That's absurd," says Robinson, who recommends a rule change requiring a minimum of 250h.

Robinson reports that 1994 was its best-ever year for sales. During the year, it delivered 195 new aircraft - 106 R44s and 89 R22s.

Source: Flight International