Saturday, March 10, 2018

Fatal crashes prompt New Zealand agency to stop using Torrance-built Robinson helicopters permanently

A New Zealand government agency that suspended the use of Torrance-made Robinson helicopters in November 2016 in the wake of a crash that killed two of its employees has now made the move permanent, citing safety concerns over a high rate of fatal accidents.

The move comes after an extensive review over the past year, Department of Conservation Safety Director Harry Maher said in a statement.

“Having assessed the evidence, we’ve made a decision to err on the side of caution and permanently cease the use of Robinson helicopters to transport DOC employees,” he said. “Ensuring employee safety in Robinson helicopters relies heavily on pilots flying within strict operating limits at all times.

“We aren’t confident that we can rely on this consistently over time across the many varied conditions that DOC employees face when in helicopters,” he added.

The DOC noted the suspension followed several fatal “mast-bumping” incidents involving Robinson helicopters and the placing of Robinson helicopters on the nation’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission watch list.

Mast-bumping, which occurs when the helicopter’s main rotor blade “bumps” the drive shaft or mast, can cause catastrophic accidents. Robinson has blamed many accidents on a lack of pilot training, while critics have contended the helicopter has a design flaw.

Radio New Zealand said earlier this week that the nation had a significantly higher rate of mast-bumping accidents in some Robinson helicopter models than in other parts of the world; for example, it’s about about nine times higher than in the U.S., the outlet said, citing TAIC. Almost half of the fatal crashes in New Zealand involved Robinsons, although they make up only about 35 percent of the nation’s fleet, the outlet said

Company spokeswoman Loretta Conley said in a statement that Robinson was “surprised and disappointed” by the decision.

“Over the last several years, the accident rate for Robinson helicopters in New Zealand has significantly improved due to changes in training implemented by the Civil Aviation Authorities,” she said. “Robinson continues to work with the CAA and is meeting this month in New Zealand with various government agencies to discuss rescinding restrictions on government use of Robinson helicopters.”

Attorney Ilyas Akbari of Los Angeles-based Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, who is currently involved in several legal cases against Robinson Helicopter Co., said he wasn’t surprised by the move given the difficult conditions DOC helicopters encounter operating in remote areas.

“Flying a Robinson R-44 in conditions like we have in New Zealand and doing the types of things that the Department of Conservation would want to do seems like they’re just flirting with the end of the flight envelope,” Akbari said. “You’ve got a helicopter that doesn’t have much give or leeway; there’s a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong.”

At least three other New Zealand government agencies have stopped using Robinsons.

The move is a publicity nightmare for Robinson in an important export market where it is gaining an unwanted reputation, Akbari said. Robinson is one of Torrance’s largest private employers

“It’s highly publicized, there were these high-profile deaths,” he said. “My understanding from the media (there) is their sales are dwindling, people aren’t using them as much anymore. That said, globally their sales are still strong.”

Original article can be found here ➤


  1. Great move! Congrats!
    It will save many lives to ban these crappy designs.
    Unfortunately Robinson has a habit of threatening national agencies to drag them to court should these dare to reveal the truth about these inherently unsafe designs.

  2. I see Robinsons fly over my house on training flights from nearby civil airport in MetroWest Boston. They are loud...not only from engine noise but from rotor/blades and other mechanical sounds. Look like fun though. They must be great for low-cost/local rotary wing flight training. But it's hard to imagine anybody using Robinsons for more than flight training or light utility/commuting work. However, I'm NO expert. Just a fixed wing GA flyer and admitted ground pounder when it comes to observing helicopters...and Robinson's seemingly labor around at about @ 300 - 500ft AGL. They sure have a tall mast though... :-)...that to me could be susceptible to angular torque/flex if pushed too hard. If pilot training is required to avoid mast bumping, etc. ...then something might be inherently wrong/weak with their design if it's that unforgiving. But again, this just my uninformed opinion...but gleaned from over 6500 hrs MIL and CIV flight time and some 'air sense'. :-)