Bell is considering improving its 206 helicopter, rather than developing an all-new replacement to compete with the Eurocopter EC120. In the meantime, the company expects to decide before the end of the year on a 412Plus upgrade.

"We're looking at enhancements to the 206. We're not looking at a brand-new entry level aircraft. It would be similar to what we would do to the 412Plus, where we would take a look at upgrading the engine, transmission and dynamics," says Bell chairman Terry Stinson.

Unlike the proposed Bell 412Plus, however, the company does not envisage making major changes to the smaller 206's cockpit. A survey of operators reveals that most would not support a substantial increase in the single-engined machine's $750,000 baseline price.

"About 80-90% of operators said they were happy with the 206 and would like an enhanced version of the helicopter, but not if it costs substantially more money. It's got to be $900,000 or less, otherwise there is going to be no interest," says Stinson.

Bell decided not to develop an all-new design because of the impact of the competing EC120, which it says is not the threat it had feared. "It doesn't offer substantial improvements in operating performance over the 206. Most of our operators buy on costs and productivity and we really haven't lost anything to the 120," claims Stinson.

The 412Plus would entail a more extensive revamp, including uprated twin Pratt & Whitney PT6C turboshaft engines, all new dynamics and Rogerson Kratos avionics. The helicopter would be priced at $4-4.5 million and be aimed at 412 operators that want commonality and which are not prepared to spend another $2 million on the new Bell Agusta AB139.

"We're going to make a decision between now and probably the end of the year. If we do a 412Plus, we'll do it as part of the Bell Agusta joint venture. It will fit in between the 412 and AB139," says Stinson. "Preliminary figures show a substantial improvement in performance over the 412," he adds.

The company has a 25% stake in the 12/15-seater and has set an end of year target for a decision on the location of its AB139 final assembly line in North America to complement the Vergiate, Italy line.

Source: Flight International