As the vertical lift industry convenes in Dallas next month (February 9 to 11) for the 55th HAI Heli-Expo trade show and meeting, it is a dazed and uncertain business beset by flat markets, rising (often ruinous) insurance rates, a growing shortage of rotorcraft pilots and mechanics and a soft overall economy.
Following up on the strategy it announced at last year’s HAI to expand in the helicopter parts and service market, Bell Helicopter Textron has announced that it acquired the helicopter skid shoe business of Calimesa, Calif.-based Carbide Technology. The $1-million-a-year-revenue business line will become part of Edwards & Associates, a unit of Textron that provides parts, service and modifications for the helicopter market.
Taking its place on Bell Helicopter’s Arlington, Texas, tiltrotor test stands for the first time last month, the long-awaited first of a planned four Bell/ Agusta 609 convertiplane prototypes began its engine runups in December. First flight is loosely scheduled for the first quarter of this year. The six- to 10-passenger aircraft will undergo a planned 40 to 50 hr of static testing before flight.
Earlier this year, Bell Helicopter celebrated the 40th anniversary of its popular single-turbine light helicopter, the JetRanger. The Bell JetRanger is the most ubiquitous turbine single-engine civilian helicopter in the world.
Bell Helicopter Textron last month announced plans to lay off 270 workers at its Fort Worth-area plants. The job cuts will affect both union-represented hourly workers and salaried employees. A spokesman for the rotorcraft builder said further cutbacks were possible as the company reevaluated its position in the slumping world helicopter market and as the effects of investigations and slowdowns in the U.S.
Textron president and CEO Lewis Campbell last month credited Cessna and Bell Helicopter deliveries for the company’s third-quarter revenue increase of 15 percent, to $3.3 billion. Profits increased 36 percent, to $423 million. Cessna delivered 103 Citations in the third quarter and estimates that it will deliver 380 business jets this year. Campbell expects Cessna to deliver 470 Citations next year.
Successfully completing phase one of what will be the world’s first civil certification of a tiltrotor aircraft, veteran convertiplane pilot Roy Hopkins recently found himself in possession of something he hadn’t had much of in the last few months: spare time.
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.