Enstrom Helicopter files for bankruptcy after 64 years of operation

After nearly 65 years in business, Enstrom Helicopter Corp. closed its plant on January 21 after declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Despite building more than 1,300 helicopters that have been sold to customers in more than 50 countries, the Michigan-based company announced that “several financial difficulties”, some of them related to the pandemic, forced its owners to close the helicopter. ‘business.

Dennis Martin, Enstrom’s Director of Sales, shared the news in a letter to its suppliers and resellers in which he confirmed “all existing contracts and agreements [with the company] will become null and void.

“Enstrom understands that you all have customers that you support and that will put you and your customers in a difficult position,” Martin said.

All of the employees, about 30 in total, lost their jobs, Enstrom President Matt Francour said. eagle herald.

Final delivery of Enstrom – a pair of 280FX aircraft – was to the Peruvian Air Force in December 2021. Meanwhile, Enstrom ceased parts supply and overhaul services on January 7, before ending its technical support on January 19.

New investments could not survive the drop in demand

Enstrom was acquired by China’s Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group (CGAG) in December 2012. CGAG offers a range of other products and services, including emergency rescue, aerial forest fire protection, application agricultural spraying, aerial photography and a host of others through its subsidiaries.

The new owner tried to transform the famous brand by investing up to $8 million to modernize the Enstrom factory. They nearly doubled the space, expanding it to a 160,000 square foot FAA-approved manufacturing facility. The company also hired more than 200 new employees.

The company showed signs of tenacity when it celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019. In an interview with vertical loader at the time, CEO Matt Francour raved about his company, sharing “how many small aircraft manufacturers have been in business for 60 years, continuously, without bankruptcies… It’s really a testament to the people that we have here, from our workforce and from our local community.”

Indeed, in 2019 the company ranked third in piston helicopter sales, with 38 sold between 2018 and 2019, but the overall rotorcraft market was in the midst of a recession. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) 2019 annual report that tracks aircraft deliveries showed that 2019 was the slowest year for rotorcraft sales in the previous seven years.

Then the pandemic hit.

GAMA data showed that between 2019 and 2020, the global piston helicopter market sales and deliveries decreased by 20.7%.

Company history

Back in the 1950s, when Rudy Enstrom came up with the idea of ​​building a helicopter, he had never even seen one before. Like FLYING previously reported, the mining engineer worked on many prototypes that barely took off. A local businessman, Jack Christensen, pumped enough money into the startup, and in December 1959, the RJ Enstrom Corp. was created.

The brand enjoyed early success. Even in 1965, when Ford introduced its legendary Mustang muscle car, it was Enstrom’s newly FAA-certified F28 that won Michigan’s Product of the Year award.

By the 1970s, the company was building over 100 aircraft a year. Even when the general aviation market experienced a downturn in the 1980s, Enstrom survived the recession to bring its 480 series turbine helicopters to market in the 1990s.

When the plant closed last week, Enstrom’s production fleet still included the 480B turbine and F-28F and 280FX pistons.

His most recent project was to be the two-seat trainer, the TH180, which he announced at the Helicopter Association International (HAI) Heli Expo in 2014. Although progress has been made, the macro trend of declining Helicopter sales appear to have passed the mark.

“It’s an incredible legacy, and the people of northern Michigan and Wisconsin who helped start the company, and especially the employees who worked hard and kept it going for all these years, should be proud. what we’ve accomplished,” Martin said in his statement to Suppliers.

A second chance ?

Meanwhile, Enstrom executives are optimistic about the possibility of a second inning. Francour said he has already responded to several requests from interested parties who would like to buy back the assets of the company in the event of bankruptcy and perhaps invest in the revamping of the company.

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a company’s assets are typically liquidated and the proceeds are used to pay off outstanding debts to creditors.

“I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I feel [the Enstrom brand will] be back,” Francour said.

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