Bell Helicopter Textron is to build a BA609 civil tiltrotor training and delivery centre at Alliance Airport, near its Fort Worth, Texas, headquarters.

The new site will also be the headquarters for the Bell/Agusta Aerospace joint venture formed by the US and Italian companies to manufacture and market vertical-lift aircraft in the 5-9t class. Initially, these will be the six/nine-passenger BA609 and AB319 medium twin-turbine helicopter.

The first flight of the BA609 is due late next year. The aircraft will be produced at Bell's new tiltrotor plant in Amarillo, Texas. Training will begin in 2001 and first deliveries are scheduled for 2002.

Bell is working with the US Federal Aviation Administration to define a training course for the new powered-lift licence that will be required to fly the BA609.

Initially, the company says, up to 300 students a year will receive training at Alliance. Bell/Agusta has 75 orders for the BA609.

Bell, meanwhile, has acquired Edwards & Associates, a Bristol, Tennessee-based maker of helicopter customisation kits and accessories. The privately held firm had sales last year of $47 million.

The helicopter manufacturer says it previously lacked a customisation and completion capability. Edwards, which will continue to operate under its own name, will also bolster Bell's presence in the used helicopter market.

Bell chairman Terry Stinson says: "Edwards & Associates' strength in the used market, where the ratio to new helicopter sales is five to one, extends our direct after-market sales opportunities."

Source: Flight International