Enstrom Helicopter 280FX. Photo courtesy of Enstrom
After a long absence, Enstrom Helicopter Corp. sold a 280FX to a training school near Versailles with hopes the aircraft can wedge open the door not only to France, but also the larger European market for starter aircraft.
The 280FX was bought by an EASA approved training organization (ATO) called Gulf Tango based at Toussus-le-Noble near Versailles, southwest of Paris, and should be delivered in April 2019. It will operate a three-seater training aircraft in the ATO’s fleet that currently includes both Robinson Helicopter R22s and R44s.
Another ATO in Toulouse this month began operation of a used 280FX, as well.
“They decided they needed a three-seat trainer to put in between the Robinsons,” Francois Gatineau, Enstrom’s representative in France, Luxembourg and Monaco, said at Helitech International in Amsterdam last week. “Within the next six months, we will have two ATOs in France operating on the Enstrom. For us it will be a sort of achievement because so far have a small number of 280s in France. Now we are pleased to discover that this type of helicopter is having some success.”
Power is the primary attraction to the 280FX, he said. France has varying terrain and elevation, with broad flat plains, the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps. With a 225-shp Lycoming HIO-360-F1AD piston engine, the 280FX performs well in all of those environments, he said.
Enstrom began conversations with 40 French ATOs two years ago, and it took that long to sell an aircraft because young pilots and students are not familiar with Enstrom, he said. There were virtually no Enstrom helicopters in France and no company representative prior to that, Gatineau said.
Once the aircraft is delivered and in operation, Gulf Tango will use it every other month. In between, Enstrom will fly it around to about 60 ATOs in the country to demonstrate its capabilities as a basic-training aircraft.
“We are going to do that again next year with that demo 280,” Gatineau said. “During the last two years, I was talking. Next year we will be flying and demonstrating. This is the goal. That aircraft will be half-time with Gulf Tango in their training organization and half-time with me, so it will be a joint action.”
Maintenance and support also helped sell the Enstrom because the largest necessary overhaul on the 280 is a 400-flight-hour inspection. Other comparable models require a complete factory overhaul that can keep them off the flight line for weeks or months, depending on how far they must be shipped.
“Many operators are happy with the 300c, but there is a spare-parts problem,” Gatineau said. “Many operators are happy with the R44, but every 12 years, you must send the helicopter back to Torrance [California]. All these elements have been taken into account.”
The 280FX has modern digital instrumentation by Aspen Avionics and is set up for instrument flight rules (IFR) training.
“These are things the schools are looking for, that we’re able to bring in,” said Dennis Martin, Enstrom’s director of sales and marketing. “You do all the research, find out what the market wants and now start bringing in aircraft, they’re going to sell.”
Enstrom is not concerned with Bell’s 505, which is being marketed as a trainer. Where the Enstrom 280 is designed as a basic trainer, the 505 is suited to advanced training for pilots who already have a private license and want to upgrade to a type rating on a turbine helicopter or to do commercial training, Gatineau said.
About half of France’s 60 or so ATOs are organized as “clubs” where multiple pilots pool resources to operate a handful of aircraft, Gatineau said.
“In these clubs, you find private pilots putting money together to operate one, two, three helicopters, for example,” he said. “You have, for example, 30 pilots flying on three helicopters. They are our target.”
The other half are commercial aviation organizations, but all are busy training pilots because France, like Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere is anticipating a coming pilot shortage. Enstrom wants to widen its share of that market, perhaps offering turbine helicopters in the future and expanding to Spain, Switzerland, Belgium.
“We have started interaction with the 280, but if we are successful with the 280, gradually I will switch more to the turbine side on the 480,” Gatineau said. “Then we will be in competition with the 505, with the same engine.”
In head-to-head competition, the Enstrom 480 recently beat the Bell 505 to become the Czech Republic’s military training helicopter. The Thai and Japanese militaries also have chosen the 480 as a training aircraft.
All told, the company hopes to break in and stabilize at selling up to four aircraft a year in France and neighboring countries. Gatineau said the market should support steady sales of two to three aircraft per year going forward.
“Our aircraft don’t self-sunset,” Martin said. “We don’t get the opportunity to sell the guy a new one every couple of years. Those aircraft, they’re going to be there forever. … If you get two to four a year or two to three a year, in 10 years you’re going to have the whole market because you will have pushed everybody out.”