Bell Helicopter here on Monday announced an order for 14 helicopters–12 Bell 407s and two Bell 206B3s–from Australia-based sales representative Hawker Pacific. “Strong growth in the Oceania market ranges from aviation logistics support in Papua New Guinea, aerial support of mining in New Caledonia and corporate/private operators in Australia/New Zealand,” Hawker Pacific CEO Alan Smith explained.
Bell Helicopter will likely confirm another one-year delay for the civil BA609 Tiltrotor program during a press conference here today, judging by a new development schedule released by program partner AgustaWestland. This year, the company expects a postponement of certification from “2010/2011,” as announced in June 2007, to “2011/early 2012.”
A Bell Helicopter spokesman denied speculation that the company plans to pull the plug on the Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor or sell its entire stake in the program to Italian development partner AgustaWestland. Speculation about Bell’s future in the program escalated earlier this week after Bell CEO Richard Millman told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “We designed the 609 for a new U.S.
Eurocopter has filed a lawsuit in Canada against Bell Helicopter alleging that the Texas company improperly used a patented landing-gear design on the Bell 429. According to Bell’s publicity, the 429 features an energy-attenuating sled-type landing gear. “Our lawyers are looking at the lawsuit,” a Bell spokesman told AIN.
The fortunes of the Bell/Agusta BA609 are closely linked to those of the U.S. Marines’ MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport, still grounded following a pair of well-publicized fatal accidents and even more sensational charges of records falsification and related wrongdoing by senior Marine program managers.
Coping with a slowdown in both commercial and military sales, Bell Helicopter has laid off 45 more nonunion employees, bringing to 800 the number of jobs it has eliminated in its Dallas/Fort Worth and Mirabel, Quebec plants since September. While the layoffs have been taken from nearly every division of the company, by far the largest percentage has come from manufacturing operations.
While its bigger cousin in the Marines stays grounded, work on the civil tiltrotor is proceeding in the same Bell Helicopter hangars from which the first prototype V-22 Ospreys rolled out some 13 years ago in Arlington, Texas.
As spring flooded north along America’s Atlantic seaboard, news from the tiltrotor front began to improve somewhat. The mandated modification work on the U.S. Marines’ Osprey fleet was proceeding, closing in on a resumption of flight tests expected to happen this month. Critics of the embattled Bell Boeing program seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Glenn Hess, a longtime Boeing and McDonnell Douglas senior executive, has been named president and COO of Bell Helicopter. He fills a hole in the senior staff vacated by John Murphey when he was promoted to chairman and CEO. Key to both Hess’ and Murphey’s success will be putting Bell’s troubled civil and military tiltrotor programs back on track.
While Bell Helicopter and program partner Agusta Aerospace are pondering their next moves in the ongoing saga of tiltrotor development (see page 1), both parties were recently informed by the U.S military that they must find space to store 19 military