Bell Helicopter last month officially opened its worldwide sales, support and training headquarters at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas. The facility, originally built in 1999 for Galaxy Aerospace, will also serve as the delivery center and training school for the Bell/Agusta BA609 tiltrotor.
Bell and Agusta continue their development of the BA609 civil tiltrotor, a joint effort that has been ongoing for more than a decade. However, the future of the program may hinge on the joint venture’s ability to control program costs, speed certification and deliveries, as well as the success of the first squadron of military tiltrotors about to deploy to Iraq.
The Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor program is moving forward, according to a Bell spokesman, with two more flight-test ships scheduled to join the two already flying over the next 18 months. However, there are some indications that the program, now into its 10th year, is beginning to falter.
Bell Helicopter’s commercial division knows as well as anyone about the challenge of making a living in a stagnant industry that appears unlikely to grow beyond generally accepted delivery projections of 400 to 500 helicopters a year. For years the only real avenue to sales growth lay in scratching for more market share–a circumstance unlikely to change in the near future.
At the Farnborough Air Show last month, helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland unveiled its new Agusta A109S Grand, a medium twin-engine rotorcraft designed to fill the gap between the Agusta A109 Power and the Bell/Agusta AB139, now entering service. The helicopter is expected to receive certification early next year, with deliveries to begin in the second half of the year.
“Why don’t my Bell colleagues take this question?” AgustaWestland CEO Giuseppe Orsi suggested when asked why Bell would not accept his company’s additional money into the protracted BA609 Tiltrotor program, during a press conference on Wednesday here at the Paris Air Show.
Last Friday morning the Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor flew over Central Texas with its outboard nacelles rotating forward to full airplane mode for the first time. BA609 project pilot Roy Hopkins and Bell pilot Jim Lindsey said the powered-lift aircraft reached 190 knots in this configuration.
AgustaWestland recently disclosed it is moving production of the A119 Koala single-engine helicopter from Italy to Philadelphia. Flanked by Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell and local politicians, company officials broke ground on March 2 on a manufacturing and final assembly plant at Northeast Philadelphia Airport, where about 20 Koalas will be built each year.
Bell Helicopter was at last month’s Heli-Expo in Las Vegas in force as usual, with a 412 and a 407 on display at its booth. At the static area, the Texas-based helicopter manufacturer had several new-design 427 mockups, an Eagle Eye UAV and a Bell 430. Another 430, along with a 427 and 407, was also available for customer flights from the convention center.
By launching the IFR version of its 427 model at Heli-Expo, in Las Vegas in March, Bell Helicopter finally acknowledged its mistakes in introducing the type in the first place, almost 10 years before.