Bell HELICOPTER Textron is in "exclusive negotiations" to buy Boeing's commercial helicopter business, Bell president Terry Stinson has confirmed. Agreement has not yet been reached, but "Bell's position on the balance of Boeing's product line will be announced within the next two weeks", he revealed on 15 February at the Helicopter Association International's Heli-Expo '98.

Bell has already agreed to take over Boeing's 49% stake in the Bell Boeing 609 civil tilt rotor joint venture, following the aerospace giant's "strategic decision" to exit the commercial helicopter business (Flight International, 18-24 February). Boeing will continue to participate as a subcontractor, but Stinson says that Bell is negotiating with risk sharing partners to take over at least some of Boeing's share of the programme. An announcement is expected within 30 days. Negotiations are "fairly far along with some people", Stinson says.

Stinson says that the outcome of the talks with Boeing on acquiring the former McDonnell Douglas commercial helicopter business will influence new product decisions at Bell. The company is "well along" in evaluating a new entry level helicopter, and is considering an upgraded 206B JetRanger and a new design, but will also evaluate Boeing's MD500 series if the sale goes through, he says.

Stinson is not concerned about any potential overlap between Boeing's MD600 turbine single and MD902 light twin with Bell's 407 and 427, respectively. He sees the tailrotorless Boeing helicopters as "niche products", appealing to customers which have particular concerns about noise.

Despite previously describing the 609 tilt rotor as the successor to Bell's 412 medium twin, the company is now "-evaluating whether it is appropriate to develop a new medium twin", Stinson says. Bell is looking at an upgraded 412 and a new design. Stinson says that the 609 appeals to "30-50% of the market", particularly to operators wanting longer range and higher speed. The remainder operate over shorter ranges and want a larger cabin than that of the 609.

The new medium twin will compete directly with Eurocopter's 12-passenger EC155, Stinson says. Announcements on the new entry level and medium twin helicopters are expected later this year, possibly at the Farnborough air show in September, Stinson says.

Bell, meanwhile, says that sales commitments for the 609 have passed the 60 mark. New orders unveiled at the show include three aircraft for Lider of Brazil, two for the UK's Bristow, and one each for South Korea's United Industries, Bell's parent company Textron, golfer Greg Norman and entrepreneur Wayne Huizegna.

Source: Flight International