The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Chopper firm still aims to deliver

Composite Helicopters co-founder says crash shows how survivable such an accident can be.

This week's watery crash landing of a prototype New Zealand-made chopper isn't being seen as a setback for its Auckland-based manufacturer, which is still planning to make its first deliveries to customers over the next few months, says Composite Helicopters International co-founder Peter Maloney.

The carbon fibre KC518, built by the firm at its North Shore Airfield production facility, lost power at around 700ft (213m) and was forced to ditch in the Waitemata Harbour, near North Head, just before midday on Tuesday.

Maloney - who was at the controls of the chopper and managed to escape the aircraft unharmed with crew member Nina Heatley - said rather than harming the company's commercial prospects the accident, which received international media coverage, had demonstrated how survivable such an event could be in the KC518.

"There were no exceptional pilot skills and the helicopter responded normally," he said. "While we're not terribly happy that it happened it has provided us with valuable knowledge about a real life situation."

Maloney said Composite Helicopters, which is currently building its third prototype helicopter, had taken deposits from a number of customers in New Zealand and Australia and still expected to begin making deliveries of aircraft at the end of July or early August.

The choppers have a price tag of around US$450,000 ($536,000).

"[The accident] is not likely to slow us up at all," Maloney said.

"The design and the review of our production process and so on have already moved into the next phase."

The Civil Aviation Authority has begun an investigation into why the KC518's US-made engine lost power.

"The helicopter that we were flying [on Tuesday] had accumulated just under 200 hours [in the air] and the flying programme had been going remarkably well," Maloney said "We've been really pleased with the way the helicopter has been performing."

The KC518 has the world's first all carbon-kevlar helicopter fuselage and the lowest cost of ownership of any turbine chopper, the company says.

Maloney said that had he been flying up the coast of the North Shore on Tuesday when the power loss occurred, rather than over the harbour, he would have been able to land the helicopter on a beach.

"The machine was controllable all the way down to the [water]," he said.

Maloney and his wife Leanne will travel to Russia today to attend an event in Moscow where they will promote the helicopter. "We'll have a small stand with video and bits and pieces," he said. "I'm sure there will be lots of questions and discussions with respect to the design details and how the airframe survived the water landing."

The crashed chopper had been recovered from the harbour yesterday and the company was facilitating its return to North Shore Airfield, Maloney said.

- NZ Herald

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