With new manufacturing certifications in place, the OEM looks to ramp up production and support
Schweizer Helicopter has had a busy year, according to CEO David Horton. Last March, the light helicopter manufacturer received its unlimited production certificate from the FAA, which supplanted the limited production certificate it received in August 2020. This authorization allows the Fort Worth-based OEM full production of the S300C and S300CBi piston-powered helicopters without FAA oversight of each aircraft.
Additionally, the manufacturer has received approval for a crash-resistant fuel system STC in response to Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) SW-17-31R1. The first installation on a new-production Schweizer will take place by April and it is retrofittable. This approval also allows the company to resume U.S. sales of its helicopters.
After Schweizer was acquired from Sikorsky in 2018, the company has worked to restart its production line for the venerable helicopter. Horton noted that it has delivered a dozen helicopters since 2021 and has several in its backlog. One of Schweizer’s goals this year is to expand its global sales force to strengthen its order book.
The airframer is also taking steps to improve the manufacturability of its parts. “When the helicopter was designed and built in the 1950s and 1960s, the manufacturing capability was limited and therefore you used a lot of castings in the production of these helicopters,” explained Horton. “We want to move away from castings as we can and go to machined parts,” which have lower lead times and would ultimately lower end costs for the customer.
It is also developing a digital flat-panel instrument display, which the company said will reduce weight by up to 15 pounds.
Schweizer has also worked to address what it describes as its customers’ number-one concern: spare parts. Over the past four years, the company restarted its supply chain and invested $15 million in parts and tooling.
Horton noted that the OEM today has parts on its shelves to fill 90 percent of all orders when received. “We’re maybe not at the apex where we feel like it’s 100 percent covered all the time, but we feel really good about where we are at with regards to supporting the fleet and having spare parts.”
To bolster its worldwide service network, the company authorized three new locations: HeliEast in Poland, Heli Holland in the Netherlands, and the UK’s Unionlet, which also has a track record of helicopter supply and support in Africa.
In November, the company completed the first example in its OEM Certified Helicopter Program, which was established to bring new life to existing Schweizer airframes. The program comes in two levels, the first being ‘Refresh,’ which includes ensuring all life-limited components have at least 50 percent of their remaining time, at least 60 percent life remaining on the engine, all required inspections and repairs, overhauled landing gear dampers, new cabin and door Plexiglas, and touch-up paint.
The second level is “refurbish,” which involves disassembling the entire helicopter and providing a more extensive slate of repairs such as new interior, Plexiglas, wiring, main and tail rotor blades, and hoses, as well as a factory-fresh or overhauled engine and cleaned and certified oil coolers. It is also stripped and repainted inside and out, and comes with a one-year, 1,000-hour warranty.
“When you buy a used helicopter, you are always taking some level of risk,” Horton told reporters during a Heli-Expo press conference. “Our intention of doing this is to take a lot of that risk out of buying a used helicopter.”
Thus far, he said the Fort Worth-based company has delivered four renovated Schweizers. With between 1,200 and 1,500 active helicopters in the company’s worldwide fleet, which has tallied more than 17 million flight hours, Horton believes there is an ample supply of potential airframes for the upgrade program.
The company also partnered with an insurance company to establish a dedicated coverage program offering prenegotiated rates and benefits unavailable to other piston helicopter manufacturers.
Looking ahead, Horton sees a path to bringing back the turbine-powered Schweizer 333.
“We still believe there is a future for the triple three. I believe in the next 18 months we will secure an order big enough to where we can start production. That will be our next big undertaking.”
Further on the horizon is the 444, a rendering of which Horton showed on Tuesday at the show. While he acknowledged that the aircraft—in the absence of development funding—is just a paper design, it serves a vital role.
“I think for any company, having something that you can push for to the future is really a great thing,” concluded Horton. “If you’re not really driving towards something, what are you doing?”