“The first thing that everyone asks is, 'What has changed?'” says Tracy Biegler, Enstrom's marketing director. “Nothing has really changed. We still have the same management structure, the products are the same, but we don't really know what the future holds.” Of course, Enstrom is hopeful that Chongqing's investment will bring more success.
“For Chongqing, this takeover isn't just about the manufacturing,” Biegler says. “China already has a lot of experience in building helicopters and aircraft. A significant part of their decision is about gaining the experience and knowledge about the infrastructure of general aviation industry. That's an aspect they do not currently share with the rest of the world.”
Biegler says there are no plans to move away from the U.S., but he adds that some production could take place in China and offer opportunities for the company's supply chain. More critically, Enstrom hopes the takeover will help boost sales. Chongqing would like the company to achieve a 30% share in the Chinese light helicopter market and sell 110 aircraft per year by 2015, a rate not seen by Enstrom since the 1970s.
While they have never sold in the volumes that their competitors at Robinson Helicopter Co. have, Enstrom's family of piston and turbine-engine light helicopters are seen in the industry as highly robust and cost-effective. Today, the company's product line consists of the turbine-powered 480B and the piston-engine F-28F and 280FX models. The rotorcraft have been adopted for a wide range of roles from agricultural spraying to law enforcement.
For many years, Enstrom relied on the general aviation sector for much of its business, but it was able to diversify and secure against the worst of the economic downturn when it snagged a series of lucrative contracts for training helicopters in the Far East.
Enstrom has delivered 16 rotorcraft to the Thai army and it is building the last 20 in an order for 30 helicopters for the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces. Enstrom officials say they are working on at least four further military training program contracts.
The company has some experience in China, too. Through established dealerships, Enstrom has a backlog of 12 helicopters destined for China. Several of its helos are already being used for agricultural spraying in the country, and the Wuhan police operate a pair of 280FXs.