Agusta officials have revealed they are currently negotiating with Bell to increase the share the Italian manufacturer holds in the BA609 tiltrotor program. Currently at 25 percent for Agusta and 75 percent for Bell, the workshare may eventually become “close to 50/50,” Agusta CEO Amedeo Caporaletti said.
Before suffering a fatal crash April 22, the joint Bell/Agusta AB139 helicopter was enjoying a notably trouble-free development program that was at times well ahead of its original development schedule, and being warmly received by its target markets, both rarities in commercial aviation today and nearly miracles in the helicopter business.
Proving perhaps that nothing sweeps cleaner than a new broom, Bell Helicopter CEO Mike Redenbaugh, in the job since late May, has announced plans to move Bell’s military helicopter manufacturing out of its historic Fort Worth, Texas facility and into a new site in Amarillo, Texas. The Amarillo site will also handle final assembly for the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, according to a recent message from Redenbaugh.
Displaying the sort of brand loyalty most manufacturers only wish for, the New York City Police Department aviation unit has taken delivery of yet another Bell helicopter, a brand-new 412EP. This addition brings the NYPD’s fleet total to six helicopters, all of them Bell products.
AgustaWestland appointed former Bell CEO John Murphey to run Agusta-WestlandBell (AWB), the joint-venture company formed to manage the US-101 helicopter program. The US-101 and Sikorsky S-92 are the two finalists in the competition to replace the current fleet of Marine One helicopters that carry the President.
Citing a need to realign its executive lineup in the face of an economy that was already softening before it was rocked by the events of September 11, Textron has dismissed Bell Helicopter chairman and CEO Terry Stinson, filling his former position with John Murphey, Bell president and COO.
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.