Robinson Helicopter Company funding probe into rotor system

The Robinson Helicopter Company has started funding an investigation into the design of its main rotor system.

The company is trying to shake off safety warnings which have seen many New Zealand Government agencies stop using the comapny's aircraft. 

Bob Muse, head of safety for Robinson in California, is in the country on a mission to reverse the thinking of our transport safety watchdog. 

"Our aircraft have flown over 35 million flight hours worldwide, and if there was a design issue with that aircraft we would see it," he says. 

"Everybody in the industry would see it."

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission has put the aircraft on a safety watchlist because it's concerned about a high crash rate involving mast bumping, which occurs when the rotor blade hits the cabin or tail. 

For years, the Commission's been asking the US regulator, the FAA, to reinstate research into the behaviour of the Robinson's rotor system.

Mr Muse says there's no design fault, but Robinson is now paying experts at the Univeristy of Maryland to investigate.

"We haven't seen anything that would cause us concern with the design... but this research is going to be on-going for quite some time."

On January 23, a Robinson R44 in Brazil ditched into the sea, killing three people. The cause of the crash is still being investigated.

This year alone, there have been seven crashes involving this type of Robinson.

Department of Conservation staff have permanently banned use of them, but Muse says that's not fair.

"It's hurt mum and pop operations, helicopter pilots here and companies that have invested in our product."

The Commission has also recommended cockpit video recorders be used, so investigators have a better understanding of what's occurred in the moments before a crash happens.

Robinson says it's looking at developing data recording devices. 

Whether that will be enough to win over authorities remains to be seen. The Commission will review its watchlist decisions in three months.