Commercial, Military, Personal/Corporate, Products, Public Service, Services

Editor’s Notebook

By Ernie Stephens | January 1, 2009
Send Feedback

The Three Little Angels of Spending

This month, we bring you our R&W Annual Report. And as you probably saw during your initial flip-through, it contains two sections. The first is called "Executive Outlook," which contains comments and predictions about the helicopter industry as seen by the people in the corner offices. There’s also a part called "Company Profiles," a behind-the-logo look at some of the top outfits in the business.

Times may be hard, but where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity.


Even before becoming the editor here, I liked using the report to check out companies I was thinking about doing business with. My hope is that you will use this tool the same way as you make plans about what to buy and where to buy it from.

"But who can afford to buy anything while the economy is in such a mess, Ernie?" You’re probably asking. Well, read on. I think I have an answer for you.

The trouble, at least for some of the decision makers in the helicopter industry, is that little angel on their shoulder telling them not to spend money in this tough economic period. At the same time, the little devil on their other shoulder is urging them to spend, spend, spend, regardless of the economy.

I’m not completely ready to dismiss the arguments of the angel or the devil when it comes to shelling out someone’s hard-earned money. After all, there are a lot of factors driving one’s decision to scribble out a check, and only the potential buyer knows where they are, financially speaking, at any given time. But based upon some recent conversations I’ve had with several CEOs on both sides of the cash register, there may be a third angel that bears listening to. It’s the one who says, "Where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity."

Yes, it seems that for now the bottom has fallen out of the entire business world. The Big Three U.S. automobile manufacturers were, at least as of this writing, turned away from Capitol Hill in their attempt to get several billions of dollars in bailout money. (I guess that means my car and my pick-up truck will be orphans, soon.) The big mortgage brokers got their stay-afloat cash several weeks ago and the airlines; well, they’ve been sliding downhill for years. Even Southwest Airlines, the exception to all of the sad air carrier news, has begun losing money. Heck, I heard on the news the other night that the only businesses making big bank these days are the dollar stores and mega-discount chains. Even the meal I had in the hotel restaurant tonight was downsized and didn’t automatically come with a basket of the dinner rolls I’m not supposed to have, anyway. Yet, the helicopter industry has done exceptionally well, relatively speaking.

Whatever amount of slowing down there is in North America has been offset by some nice helicopters sales, service, completion and equipment contracts around the globe. Even the world’s militaries are placing orders for utility helicopters and gunships. So, I’m thinking "golden opportunities" here!

You can’t build, outfit or even fly helicopters without all sorts of materials from other sectors of industry, many of which are hurting for customers. And where there’s the chaos of suppliers looking for revenue, there’s an opportunity for a customer to find a great deal on the supplies their company needs to keep our industry humming.

Now, I’m no economist, but what better time could there be to shop for some must-have items for a helicopter operation? This may be just the right time to purchase tools, chemicals and all kinds of wares at fire sale prices. There may even be a workforce of skilled engineers and assembly line workers from Detroit looking to transfer their skills and experience from cars to rotorcraft.

Corporate execs inside and outside of our sheltered little whirly-bird world are telling me they’re willing to do whatever they have to do to keep the doors open and employees on the payroll. And the best way to do that, they say, is to look for and to offer hot deals on the products and services they buy and sell.

Yes, we all have to pay attention to the good angel who tells us to save, save, save. And we occasionally have to go with the little devill who tells us to spend, spend, spend. But I sort of like that third angel who believes that a little haggling in the marketplace is worth a try, particularly when times are tough.

We in the helicopter community are in a unique position right now. Our products are flowing, our services are still in high demand, and we’re positioned to stay that way for a bit longer. Played smartly, this could be a great time for us to buy some stuff and use it to build more capital.

Receive the latest rotorcraft news right to your inbox