The US government's Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has blocked the sale of Boeing MD500/600 helicopters to Bell Helicopter Textron, forcing Boeing to put the two production lines back on the market.

The MD500/600 lines were sold to Bell in March following Boeing's decision to opt out of the civil helicopter business which it inherited in 1997 with the take-over of McDonnell Douglas Helicopters (MDH). The sale was ultimately dependent on the FTC, which has now rejected the purchase because it would give Bell a monopoly in the light turboshaft single sector. Bell's 206 JetRanger and 407 would have been joined by the MD500/600 family .

Boeing says it had some warning of the FTC's leanings following a recent decision to block the Lockheed Martin/Northrop Grumman merger. Bell says: "We remain hopeful we will be able to acquire the MD500/600 lines, but the FTC has decided to put the deal on ice and asked Boeing to shop around for other buyers." Bell's agreement to take over Boeing's 49% stake in the Bell Boeing 609 civil tiltrotor joint venture is not affected by the ruling.

The FTC has instructed Boeing to "-market its light helicopter lines to other potential buyers", but has set no firm time limit on the company finding a purchaser. Boeing says, however, that "-Bell would still make sense as the preferred choice because of its ability to service customers". Also, Boeing is believed to have set itself a target of finding an alternative buyer within 90 days, before going back to the FTC "-to request if we can pursue the matter with Bell".

This would enable the company to meet its corporate strategy target of disposing of its civil helicopter businesses by the end of the year. Boeing is continuing with its military helicopter business.

It is unclear what party, if any, might become favourite to buy the MD500/600 lines in place of Bell. Other US rotary wing manufacturers, such as Schweizer Aircraft and Sikorsky, are expected to revisit the issue, although it is thought that the only realistic competition to Bell is likely to emerge in the form of private investment groups, at least two of which were formed to bid for the former MDH business in February.

Boeing says the proposed sale of the MD900 Explorer to Belgium's Heli Fly, expected to be finalised by the end of July, is unaffected.

Source: Flight International