Final contract detailing workshare and investment to be unveiled in two months

Bell is ready to formally launch an instrument flight rules (IFR) version of the 427 light twin-turbine helicopter following the signing of an agreement with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).

The 3,180kg (7,000lb) aircraft is to be developed by the end of 2006 with three investment partners - Bell, KAI and Mitsui of Japan. Bell and KAI signed in November last year a memorandum of understanding to develop the 427IFR and have now completed negotiating investment and workshare details. An initial agreement was signed last weekend in Hawaii and a final contract should be forged within the next two months.

The partners have decided to assemble all aircraft in Canada, at least initially. Setting up a second assembly line in South Korea and shifting additional workshare there had been considered. But,as with the 427VFR, KAI's workshare will mainly consist of the fuselage, which is to be stretched for the IFR variant.

KAI has performed advanced engineering work on the project and will soon dispatch engineers to Bell in Canada. Some detailed design work will also be done by KAI at Sacheon, South Korea.

South Korean industry sources say KAI wants to make sure there is a market in China and South Korea for the aircraft before investing in an assembly line. The company will remain the exclusive agent for the 427 in these two countries but, unlike Bell and Mitsui, it has not yet begun marketing the 427IFR.

KAI is instead now conducting a market study and hopes to begin selling the 427IFR before the first batch of aircraft are ready for delivery in 2007. Outside China and South Korea, at least 11 427IFRs have been sold, most by Bell's Japanese agent Mitsui, which has long pressed Bell to develop an IFR-capable light twin to meet the needs of Japan's large parapublic market.

South Korea has 150 helicopters in commercial and parapublic operations, including several in the 427's size category that will need replacement within a decade.



Source: Flight International