New Zealand Government agency stops flying Robinson helicopters


Robinson R66 Turbine Marine

A New Zealand Government agency has ceased flying its staff in Robinson helicopters due to a high number of fatal crashes.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) will cease flying all Robinson models immediately following a large number of ‘mast-bump’ accidents across the country – where rotors flap beyond normal limits which can cause the blades to separate from the rotor.

The number of mast bump incidents involving Robinson helicopters in New Zealand is nine times higher proportionally than the in the US.

DOC safety director Harry Maher claims that the impact of the ban will be minor.

Mr Maher released a statement saying: “Over the past year we’ve conducted a review on DOC’s use of Robinson helicopters. This has involved commissioning external and internal reports and meeting with industry representatives.

“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.

“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.”

New Zealand and Robinson

As of July 2017, New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) had recorded 14 low-G mast-bumping accidents in R22, R44 and R66 helicopters with New Zealand operators. All but two of the accident resulted in fatalities.

The accidents can be caused by sudden turbulence or abrupt flight-control inputs according to the Commission.

The TAIC suggested that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) review Robinson safety awareness training in New Zealand and publicise updated safety information, advising pilots to reduce power and speed if turbulence is encountered.

Robinson picking up steam

Despite New Zealand’s move, Robinson shipments picked up steam in 2017, producing 305 helicopters on commission last year. This is second only to Airbus Helicopters, which delivered 369.

More than half of these deliveries were made up of R44 Ravens, producing 174 helicopters – making it the highest shipping helicopter last year. The R44 Cadet shipped 20 units last year.