Robinson R44: FAQ’s of The Worlds Best-Selling Commercial Helicopter

Written By: Jack Buscombe

The Robinson R44 is a heavy-hitter in the light utility helicopter space. It has been the world’s best-selling General Aviation Helicopter year-on-year since 1999, with more than 7,000 produced globally. As a light utility chopper, the 4-seater R44 is mainly used for commercial and private services with business commutes. It’s also commonly used as training aircraft for students in flight schools.

Produced by the Robinson Helicopter Company since 1992, the R44 took shape from the smaller R22 (the company’s 2-seat offering). Expanding on some of the groundbreaking features of the R22, the larger helicopter brought a new affordable face to the light utility helicopter market. And with great popularity comes great scrutiny. The following article provides information about the famous R44 and addresses the most common questions/concerns we receive about the Robinson.

Robinson R44 in a backyard

Robinson R44 Quick Numbers

What is the passenger capacity?

A Robinson R44 has 4 seats (1 pilot and 3 passengers).

What are the weight restrictions?

The individual passenger weight restriction of the Robinson R44 is 110kg’s. In total, it is recommended for the combined passenger weight to not exceed 300kg’s between 3 passengers.

How much does an R44 weigh?

The current models of the Robinson R44 weigh 658kg’s (1,505lb’s) when it’s empty and 1,134kg's at maximum load.

How far can they fly?

The Robinson R44 has a maximum travel range of 550km’s (or 300 nautical miles) with no reserve.

How fast do they fly?

The cruising speed of the R44 is 202km/h (or 109 knots) with the maximum gross weight.

Brisbane CBD Sunset Helicopter
Stefan Jannides Photography

The Robinson Helicopter Family

Since the founding of The Robinson Helicopter Company in 1973, the company has produced over 12,000 choppers and currently employ 1,300 staff. They effectively managed to dominate several segments to the helicopter market with only 3 product offerings: the R22R44 and R66.

The Robinson R22: The Predecessor

A grounded Robinson R22
Image Courtesy of Controller

The first flight of the R22 took place in 1975 and production commenced later in 1979. As the precursor to the R44, the Robinson Helicopter Company created the R22 with a focus on low purchase and operational costs. The result was a super-low inertia aircraft run on a rotor system. The low-inertia characteristics of the R22 was perfect for the agile requirements of livestock management on farms. Paired with their purchase and operational affordability, the introduction of the first Robinson was a pivotal moment in the General Aviation industry. The current R22’s run on a piston engine and take on 12 variants with the R22 Beta II as the best-seller.

The Robinson R66: A Bit More Grunt

Robinson R66 in flight
Image Courtesy of Controller

When the R66 went into full production in 2010, it became the first Robinson Helicopter powered by a turbine. Purposed to be the largest of the Robinson range, the R66 made room for 5 seats (with the exception of the 4-seat Police R66). The build of the Robinson R66 was based on the earlier piston-engine R44. With increases in speed and range, the R66 was able to reach a speeds of 140 knots (or 260km/h), and travel distances up to 350 nautical miles (or 650km/h); a nudge more than the R44.

How Safe is the Robinson R44?

The short answer: very safe. It’s safer than driving, roller-coasters and bicycles. To put into context, you’re more likely to be hit by a car walking on the side of the road than to experience a crash in a Robinson R44. Despite this, the R44 cops a lot of flack from the media and the public consensus can sometimes be brutal.

Much of the flack it receives dates back as far as 2013 after the chopper had a recall on their fuel tanks. In response to this, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) conducted an investigation into the issue and CASA (the Civil Aviation Safety Authority) proposed a landing for all R44’s until the fuel tanks were dealt with. A massive amount of scheduled flights had to be cancelled, which was big news for General Aviation in Australia, and the wider public. As anyone would expect, this ruling from CASA resulted in a huge blow to peoples confidence in helicopter safety. The flow-on effects are still being felt by flight providers, despite the drastic fall in the fatality rate since the recall.

Since the start of production on the Robinson R44 in 1992, there have been 74 recorded fatalities worldwide. Which works out to be about 3 fatalities in a Robinson R44 around the world each year. (Information Provided By the International Aviation Safety Network).

Between 2006 & 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration concluded that the fatal accident rate was 1.61 for every 100,000 flight hours. A direct comparison is hard to make per 100,000 drive hours, however 1.25 million people are killed each year in car accidents (or 3,287 each day)Almost 17,000 times more than the entire life span of the Robinson R44.

Cost of the Robinson R44

A couple of R44's in a wedding

How Much Does it Cost to Buy a Robinson R44?

Prices for Robinson R44’s usually range between $100,000 – $1,000,000 in Australia. The current market data we collected shows that the cheapest used R44’s run at around $200,000 for a 2004 Raven II. This can extend to over $900,000 for the brand new 2019 models. Not a cheap hobby, eh!

As most high-ticket aviation sales are highly negotiable, analyzing the online advertised prices alone doesn’t give such an accurate snapshot of the market prices. So, we contacted 100 sellers of Robinson R44’s within 15 years of age to get a better idea of true market prices. The following graph shows our findings, with all prices converted to AUD (as of 2nd September 2019).

Robinson R44 market price
Robinson R44 Market Price across 15 Years (in brackets are the sample size of helicopters with model year for sale)

How Much Does it Cost to Run a Robinson R44?

In 2019, the Robinson Helicopter Company prepared a summary of the estimated annual operational costs of the Robinson R44 Raven.

This calculation includes the following costs:

  • Total Fixed Costs of $12,126 per year, including:
    • Liability Insurance = $2,560
    • Hull Insurance = $9,566
  • Hourly Reserve For Overhaul = $104.27
  • Hourly Direct Operating Costs = $124.46
    • Fuel Costs (112 litre fuel tank for Robinson R44 Raven II) = $91.35
    • Oil Cost = $1.16
    • Labor for Inspection = $19.80
    • Unscheduled & and miscellaneous inspections = $12.15

The annualised fixed costs of $12,126 over an average of 500 flight hours brings us to $24.25 per hour. Therefore the hourly operational costs are calculated as follows:

  • Fixed Costs allocated for 500 hours = $24.25 per hour
  • Overhaul Reserve Per Hour = $104.27
  • Direct Cost Per Hour = $124.46
  • Total Operating Cost Per Hour: $252.98

The numbers estimate an operational cost of $252.98US per hour, or $1.31USD per road mile, assuming 500 flight hours per year. And over the course of a year, the annual price to maintain an R44 is $126,491US. Not such a cheap hobby, eh!

Can I Land a Helicopter in My Backyard?

Yes, you can land a helicopter in your backyard, or practically anywhere with enough space! Just make sure you have permission from the property owner. One of the particularly cool things about the Robinson R44’s is their portability. However there are certain places which don’t allow for helicopter landings, e.g. finding a place to land in the Brisbane CBD is tricky at best. Apart from the heliports on the inner city hospitals, it’s effectively a landing-free zone.

R44 in a couples backyard

How Much Does a Helicopter Flight Cost?

Glad you asked! A trip in a helicopter can range from $69, up to… well, anything. Depending on how far you want to fly and how long your journey is – helicopter flights can get pretty expensive for long flights!

Given that it’s the most affordable passenger helicopter to operate, the R44 occupies a significant majority of the scenic helitours around Australia. In fact, of all the 186 scenic helicopter flights across Australia, 154 of them are operated in an R44 (about 83%). Most of the scenic flights around Australia price for a minimum of 3 passengers to fill all the seats on the Robinson 44 choppers. This is a big part of why AirShare was founded: to eliminate minimum passenger bookings & make flying more affordable.

AirShare offers scenic joyflights in most medium-large towns across the country Australia. The following are some of the most popular flight destinations in Australia:

BrisbaneGold CoastSydneyMelbourneUluruAirlie BeachSunshine Coast, and Perth.

Click Here to see more!

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