Wanaka Helicopters owner Simon Spencer-Bower, regarded as
the most experienced Robinson R22 pilot in the world,
considers the R22 (pictured) an extremely reliable
aircraft. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Despite the prominence of Robinson R22 helicopters in
crash statistics - further highlighted by the recent death of a
Queenstown pilot near Wanaka - the Civil Aviation Authority of
New Zealand (CAA) has no specific safety concerns about the
make of helicopter, providing it is used within its parameters.
Figures released by the CAA show the accident rate in R22
helicopters - about 20 accidents per 100,000 flying hours -
is almost double the overall New Zealand-registered
helicopter accident rate, estimated at just over 10 accidents
per 100,000 flying hours.
CAA corporate communications manager Mike Richards said the
higher-than-average accident rate for the R22 could be mostly
accounted for by the large amount of training carried out in
the machines, which meant they were often flown by
inexperienced pilots or students.
"They have a higher proportion of learner drivers than
bigger, more expensive, machines," Mr Richards said. "There
are also occasions where they are used at, and in some
instances beyond, their design limits."
CAA had "no particular safety concerns about this helicopter
type when it is operated as intended by the manufacturer and
within its design, maintenance and flight parameters".
There were 62 R22 accidents in New Zealand in the past 10
The total number of accidents for all other helicopter makes
over the same period was 122.
Fatalities occurred in nine of the 62 R22 accidents, five of
which were in the Otago-Southland region (see fact box).
The most recent was on November 8, when Queenstown pilot
Julian Kramer (52), also known as Julianne, died while flying
a friend's R22 during a private flight over the Criffel
Wanaka Helicopters owner Simon Spencer-Bower, regarded as the
world's most experienced R22 pilot, shared the CAA's view.
He said because R22s were the lowest-cost helicopter to rent
and fly, there were plenty in use, particularly by
"Most of the people who learn to fly around the world,
probably 70% to 80%, are training in the Robinson
helicopter," he said.
"They're not always crashing; it's just that there's a lot
being used. I think now they're ... one of the most prolific
helicopters in the world."
While the R22 had a big safety margin between its normal
operations and its limits, he agreed that was sometimes
"Someone might exceed the limitations of the helicopter for
whatever reason, but that's not unique to a Robbie."
Mr Spencer-Bower rated the R22 one of the most reliable makes
of helicopter in the world in terms of its mechanics.
"I sit in them all day and I have over 40,000 hours in them
and they've never let me down.
"They are a wonderfully reliable aircraft."
There are 154 R22s on the New Zealand register, making it the
second-most-popular helicopter in the country behind its big
brother, the R44, of which there are 170 registered.
Mr Richards said it could be a year before the final CAA
report into the crash that killed Mr Kramer was complete.
Fatal Robinson R22 accidents in Otago-Southland:
March 5, 2006: Wanaka pilot Keith McKenzie (29), of
Canada, and passenger American tourist Jonathan Stein (61),
killed in crash on Homestead Peak, near Wanaka.
November 1, 2008: Haast pilot Morgan Saxton (31)
killed during routine flight between Haast and Wanaka.
October 14, 2010: Bluff pilot and instructor
Jason Wright (29) and trainee pilot Avondale farmer Allan
Munro (67) killed in crash in Bluff Harbour.
April 27, 2011: Wanaka pilot and instructor Graham
Stott (31) and trainee pilot Marcus Hoogvliet (21), of
Queenstown, killed in crash at head of Arawhata River.
November 8, 2012: Queenstown pilot Julian Kramer (52)
killed in crash on Criffel Range, near Wanaka.