Helicopter company shifts component construction from Canada in a cost-cutting move aimed at boosting Asia sales

Bell is shifting production of major Bell 430 components from Canada to China in a bid to lower costs and boost sales in the Chinese market.

Industry sources say China's Hafei Aviation Industry has been contracted to build the entire 430 cabin - including airframe, cabin and tailboom - and some subassemblies. Bell now relies on a mix of Canadian companies to supply these components.

A signing ceremony is scheduled for this week in Beijing. Sources say Hafei has begun setting up a line at its Harbin plant to be dedicated to manufacturing Bell 430 parts.

The plant, which is used by sister company Harbin Aircraft Industry, already manufactures fuselages, tail booms and fenestrons for the Eurocopter EC-120. A second line assembles the indigenous Z-9 helicopter.

Western helicopter manufacturers are increasingly turning to China as a source for components. Changhe Aircraft Industries manufactures tail pylons and horizontal stabilisers for the Sikorsky S-92 and was invited to bid on the Bell 430 cabin.

Sources say new joint venture company Shanghai Sikorsky Aircraft has also submitted bids to manufacture detailed parts for Schweizer helicopters assembled in the USA. Shanghai Sikorsky already assembles Schweizer helicopters for the Chinese market using imported parts.

Bell plans to continue assembling the 430 in Canada and the parts manufactured in China will be used for worldwide distribution beginning in 2005. But Bell hopes that by outsourcing 30% to 40% of the 430 in China, the eight-seat twin-engined helicopter will be more attractive to Chinese civilian operators.

There are only 12 Bell helicopters operating in China and there are no 430s. Bell currently manufactures 10 to 12 430s per year.

In addition, Bell believes the contract with Hafei could lead to broader co-operation with parent company China Aviation Industry Corp II, which also owns Changhe and Harbin.

"It's a good first step," says a Bell source. "This is our first attempt to have a bigger presence in China. In the past we've tried and did not succeed."

Source: Flight International