Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Boeing has taken a strategic decision to leave the commercial helicopter market, which will lead to the disposal of the business it acquired through its merger with McDonnell Douglas, along with the transfer of its 49% stake in the Bell Boeing 609 civil tilt rotor to partner Bell Helicopter Textron. Bell's parent Textron is strongly tipped as the buyer for the commercial helicopter business.

Bell will take over full ownership of the tilt-rotor joint venture on 1 March, but Boeing will continue to be involved in the programme as a major subcontractor. No money is expected to change hands, despite Boeing's considerable investment in tilt rotor technology. The two companies will continue to be partners on the V-22 military tilt rotor and Boeing will retain its other military helicopter programmes.

Neither Bell nor Boeing will comment on reports that the former is buying the latter's commercial helicopter business.

Boeing says that it has been negotiating the sale of the business with potential buyers, and expects to announce an agreement shortly. Also reported to be interested is Schweizer Aircraft.

There would appear to be a significant overlap between the Bell and Boeing ranges of commercial helicopters, with Boeing's new MD600N sitting between Bell's Model 206 and 407 turbine singles, and its MD 902 Explorer between Bell's 427 and 430 turbine twins.

Bell, meanwhile, says that the 609, for which it holds over 50 sales commitments, will continue to be branded a Bell Boeing product.

Source: Flight International