|MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton through the cockpit of the MD540F.
At HAI Lynn Tilton, owner of MD Helicopters, said she was scarred, but stronger for it, in her efforts to turn MD Helicopters around since buying the company in 2005. “I can feel the Howard Hughes legacy on my shoulders.”
The latest MD product, the MD540F, is on many military wish lists, she said. “We have built on it: six composite rotor blades, the Rolls-Royce M250 C47E engine and we are very proud of it.” She continued: “We had our best year ever, last year—better than 2008 when we delivered more than 50 aircraft. A lot of it has to do with our military contracts; we delivered five separate contracts all between four and six months early. In Afghanistan we have the highest readiness rate of any platform at 98 percent [the aircraft train novice Afghan pilots]. We have been able to prove our worth.”
“We have struggled to be ahead on parts, which makes no sense in this industry as it is really where you make your money. It is about forecasting and understanding your customer,” she said, adding that, “in the last couple of months MD recorded six out of 10 weeks with zero AOGs [Aircraft on Ground].”
Tilton turned her comments to the MD 902 Explorer: “This is the time and place we give NOTAR its due. In the Middle East when competitors are on the ground, the 902 keeps going,” she declared. Tilton said that the 902 was an innovative light twin, celebrating its 20th anniversary, which meant that it was the year to make things happen. There was a new partnership with Universal Avionics Systems over a new flight deck, which Tilton believes can be delivered in 2015 [with sales of Explorers from now being retrofitted with the avionics then they become available].
Tilton said that military deliveries of the MD540F included Afghanistan, El Salvador, Costa Rica and 12 aircraft to the Saudi National Guard. With the Saudi contract, which was signed in July 2012, the first six delivered were delivered in December while the following six will reach the customer by the end of March 2013. She said that another Middle East order was on the brink of being confirmed involving 12 MD540Fs and two MD902 Explorers.
MD Helicopters delivered 24 aircraft in 2012 with a target of between 40-45 this year, according to Tilton. “But it is about engines and what we can build,” she said. Again on spares, she noted that the company was on an 85 percent fill. “We needed to get to 95 percent. We have 12 representatives in the field—last year we had two.”
Tilton sees her foreign market opportunities lying in the CIS countries, the Middle East and South America, but still believes that the company must continue with its U.S. consolidation and recovery.
“Parts delivery has improved,” she restated, adding “keeping a helicopter in the air is more important than building a new one.” She said that service centers needed to be sure about what, and when, they needed in terms of parts.
MD Helicopters CEO Lynn Tilton (center) with MD executives at the company’s Heli-Expo conference.