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Hélicoptères Guimbal received an order for up to 10 Cabri G2s from Spitzer Helicopter Leasing at HAI Heli-Expo 2017 in Dallas, Texas, last week — marking the type’s entry into the U.S. leasing market.
The deal was secured through Guimbal’s U.S. distributor Precision Helicopters, with the first aircraft to be operated by Revolution Aviation, based in Orange County, California.
Revolution currently operates three fixed-wing aircraft and nine helicopters (six R22s, two R44s, and one R66). When it takes delivery of the Cabri in June, the aircraft will become the first of the type in the Los Angeles area.
“For the career student, it’s a mini [AS350] AStar, so it allows them to get into a counter rotating aircraft with a center cyclic and a couple of other mechanisms,” said Revolution CEO Mark Robinson. “And we have a lot of [private] students who have already purchased an aircraft; we think it’s a lot more relevant for them to be flying a three-bladed system with a center cyclic in order for them to have that transition [between the aircraft].”
Robinson said the Cabri’s ability to take slightly heavier students than the R22 was another bonus, and praised the aircraft’s handling.
“It’s really comfortable, it’s aesthetically pleasing to look at both inside and outside, and then flying itself is very smooth,” he said.
Precision CEO David Rath said the two-seat training helicopter’s entry into the leasing market was a “momentous” event.
“It takes some of the financial pressure off the small flight schools, allowing them to get the most advanced training helicopter in the marketplace,” he said. “It’s the most expensive two-seat helicopter, but you also get the most advanced two-seat helicopter.”
Precision took delivery of the first Cabri in the U.S. in February 2014, and although the aircraft wasn’t certified by the Federal Aviation Administration until February 2015, there are already 21 Cabris now flying in the country — making it one of the aircraft’s biggest markets. Rath said he expects another 12 Cabris to come into the U.S. this year, and that by 2018, the U.S. will be home to more Cabris than any other country.
In addition to distributing the Cabri, Precision operates between four and five of the type in its flight training fleet, with the aircraft replacing the Sikorsky (formerly Schweizer) S-300. In the two years it has been operating the Cabri, Precision has already clocked up about 4,000 revenue hours on the type.
Rath said the maintenance requirements had been minimal compared to the S-300.
“The man hours per flight hour is probably one sixth of what it was with the Schweizer,” he said. “The uptime has been 90 percent versus 77 percent.” He added that the 100-hour inspection on the Cabri took eight-to-10 man-hours, whereas with the Schweizer, it took 40 to 50.
Worldwide, the Cabri has now recorded over 120,000 flight hours, with the 200th aircraft set to be delivered in May. Over the last two years, it has been the best-selling two-seat helicopter in the world, with 52 aircraft delivered in 2016 alone. Bruno Guimbal, president and CEO of Hélicoptères Guimbal, said the growth in interest in the Cabri flowed from its performance in the field, with more and more customers attracted to what was becoming a proven aircraft.
“It’s a very good feeling for me to become a reference product, because we have been, for the last four years, a speculative product — the product people are gambling on,” said Guimbal. “So it’s very enjoyable to me to hear David [Rath] and other people saying that the Cabri is a proven product and [that] they buy it because it’s making money. Until recently, it was mostly people saying that they are buying the Cabri because they have high expectations, and because they dream of beginning something new — not because they want to make money with a proven product.”
Looking ahead, Guimbal said that many customers have asked him about a four-seat version of the Cabri.
“We have good ideas for what could be a bigger Cabri,” he said. “We have made many different pre-designs and it’s very exciting. I was working on the EC120 for years, so the intermediate between the EC120 and Cabri is very familiar to me and very exciting for sure.”
However, he said his customer base appeared to be split as to whether such an aircraft should be powered by a piston or turbine engine — and the company had made no decision as to which direction it will take — and that he wanted to focus on establishing good customer support for the existing two-seater before pressing ahead with any new design.
“People want a four-seater but they will never buy it if they are not perfectly happy with a two-seater,” said Guimbal. “So we have to take care of what we have in hand — they will not tell us if they get unhappy with a two-seater until it is too late.”