Enstrom Helicopter files for bankruptcy

Avatar for Vertical MagBy Vertical Mag | January 20, 2022

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 1 seconds.

Enstrom Helicopter Corp., one of the helicopter industry’s most storied airframe manufacturers, has declared bankruptcy and will be closing its doors Jan. 21.

Enstrom employees pose alongside an Enstrom 480B at the company's factory in Menominee, Michigan. Enstrom Helicopter Photo
Enstrom employees pose alongside an Enstrom 480B at the company’s factory in Menominee, Michigan. Enstrom Helicopter Photo

In a release announcing the news, the Menominee, Michigan-based company said “several financial difficulties” have forced its owners — Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group (CGAG) — to shutter the subsidiary’s doors.

Enstrom delivered its final helicopters — a pair of 280FX aircraft to the Peru Air Force — in December 2021. The company ceased taking new parts orders and supplying overhauls on Jan. 7, and ended its technical support on Jan. 19.

In a letter informing Enstrom’s dealers and 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 the company’s employees, including senior management, were losing their jobs.

“Enstrom understands that you all have customers you are supporting and that this will put both you and your customers in a difficult position,” he said. “We apologize. Enstrom’s management team is aware of multiple groups who have expressed strong interest in buying Enstrom’s assets and reopening the company post-bankruptcy. While we have no control over how and when this may happen, we feel that it is highly likely that a new Enstrom will be in a position 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 built more than 1,300 aircraft, which flew in more than 50 countries around the world. The company celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019, and in its 1970s heyday was building more than 100 aircraft per year. At the time of its closure, its production fleet included the turbine 480B and piston F-28F and 280FX.

“Millions of hours flown, tens of thousands of pilots trained, think of all the lives these aircraft have touched,” said Martin, in a news 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 hard working employees who kept it going all these years, should be proud of what we accomplished.”

The company had appeared to be heading on a new trajectory when it was acquired by Chinese company CGAG in December 2012. The new owners endorsed Enstrom’s growth plans and its factory received an $8 million upgrade in 2013, which added 77,000 square feet to its existing 85,000 square feet footprint. That year, the company delivered 26 helicopters, and had grown to more than 200 employees after having dipped to below 60 during the financial crisis of 2008/09.

Enstrom’s TH-180, shown during a flight test. Enstrom Photo
Enstrom’s TH-180, shown during a flight test. Enstrom Photo

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 acquisition and direct operating costs that would be competitive with existing training aircraft on the market.

At the time, certification was targeted 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 carried the program forward a few months later, there were no further updates on the program after a pre-Heli-Expo release in 2017.

Despite the news of the closure, Matt Francour, Enstrom’s president, was full of praise for the company’s workforce. “They’ve continued to work throughout the pandemic and our financial difficulties to get aircraft out the door and supply 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.

Notice a spelling mistake or typo?

Click on the button below to send an email to our team and we will get to it as soon as possible.

Report an error or typo

Have a story idea you would like to suggest?

Click on the button below to send an email to our team and we will get to it as soon as possible.

Suggest a story

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.