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Enstrom Helicopter Corp., one of the helicopter industry’s most reputable airframe manufacturers, has declared bankruptcy and will close on January 21.
In a statement announcing the news, the Menominee, Michigan-based company said “several financial difficulties” forced its owners – Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group (CGAG) – to close the doors of the subsidiary.
Enstrom delivered its last helicopters – a pair of 280FX planes to the Peruvian Air Force – in December 2021. The company stopped taking new parts orders and supplying overhauls on January 7, and put end of technical support on January 19.
In a letter advising dealers and Enstrom representatives of the news, Dennis Martin, Enstrom’s director of sales and marketing, confirmed that “all existing contracts and agreements [with the company] will become null and void. He added that all company employees, including senior managers, were losing their jobs.
“Enstrom understands that you all have customers that you support and that will put you and your customers in a difficult position,” he said. “We apologize. Enstrom’s management team is aware of several groups who have expressed a strong interest in purchasing Enstrom’s assets and reopening the business after bankruptcy. Although we do not have no control over how and when this may happen, we believe it is highly likely that a new Enstrom will be able to support you and your customers relatively quickly.
Founded in 1959 by helicopter industry legend Rudy Enstrom and a group of local businessmen, Enstrom Helicopter has built over 1,300 aircraft, which have flown in more than 50 countries around the world. The company celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019 and, at its peak in the 1970s, was building more than 100 aircraft a year. At the time of its closure, its production fleet included the 480B turbine and the F-28F and 280FX piston.
“Millions of flight hours, tens of thousands of trained pilots, think of all the lives these planes have touched,” Martin said, in a press release announcing the company’s closure. “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. of what we have accomplished.”
The company appeared to be heading for a new trajectory when it was acquired by Chinese company CGAG in December 2012. The new owners approved Enstrom’s growth plans and its plant received an $8 million upgrade. dollars in 2013, which added 77,000 square feet to its existing 85,000. square foot footprint. That year the company delivered 26 helicopters and had over 200 employees after dropping to less than 60 during the 2008/09 financial crisis.
On the first day of HAI Heli-Expo 2014, Enstrom unveiled the development of a two-seat training helicopter – the TH180. The aircraft was based on the F-28F, but was designed to have direct acquisition and operating costs that would be competitive with existing trainer aircraft on the market.
At the time, certification was scheduled for the second quarter of 2015, but the first prototype was destroyed when a piece of flight test instrumentation forced a hard landing in February 2016. While a second prototype moved the program forward a few months later, there were no further updates on the program after a pre-Heli-Expo outing in 2017.
Despite news of the closure, Matt Francour, president of Enstrom, is full of praise for the company’s workforce. “They have continued to work throughout the pandemic and our financial difficulties to get aircraft out and provide parts and technical support to our large in-service fleet.”
He also expressed his belief that a buyer will be found for Enstrom’s assets.
“I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I have a feeling we’ll be back,” he said.