Bell has handed over its first 429 twin, to Des Moines helicopter emergency medical services operator Mercy One, after a four-month kitting out by Air Methods, which will operate the aircraft.
The handover was a bittersweet milestone for Bell as launch customer Air Methods cancelled plans to purchase more than two dozen additional 429s, citing useful load issues in its decision to switch to Eurocopter models, including EC130s.
Bell says the load-carrying ability of an emergency medical services-equipped 429 is roughly 45kg (100lb) or about 12 minutes' flying time less than for a comparable Eurocopter. Bell 429 programme manager Neill Marshall says cutting weight and improving performance are priorities, but production of the $4.9 million helicopter is sold out "well into" 2012.
He adds: "We'll deliver 25 helicopters this year and get another 100lb out of the aircraft." Bell plans to ramp production up to 50 aircraft a year in 2011 and 60 in 2012.