Bell holds no firm orders for the developmental 525 Relentless, the airframer has disclosed, even as it begins production of the first serial helicopters.

“We have not taken any orders just yet,” says Danny Maldonado, Bell chief commercial officer, conceding that the initial batch of eight series aircraft in final assembly are effectively “white-tails”.

“You have to start building ahead, you have to have a hot line,” he adds.

Bell 525

Source: Bell

Initial deliveries are likely to be for offshore oil and gas operators

While admitting that the backlog for the 525 is not where the airframer wanted it to be, Maldonado remains convinced customers will emerge.

“You’d always want to have orders already ahead of time, but we are lining them up with certification and that’s perfect because you want to build to a specific iteration.

“So, from a timing perspective we are in a good place so long as we get orders as the aircraft move down the line,” he said at the Heli-Expo show on 28 February.

As deliveries of the new super-medium-twin are unlikely to begin much before late this year or early next, depending on the pace of certification, Bell has some leeway to find a launch customer, albeit that window is shrinking.

Discussions with potential operators continue, says Maldonado, who is convinced the safety and operational benefits the 525 will bring through its fly-by-wire controls and enhanced maintenance system will bring in sales, despite a price tag that is higher than for its immediate rivals.

Initial deliveries will be in the oil and gas segment and talks are also under way with the biggest operators in the space to perform route-proving work with the 525.

In recent filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Louisiana-based operator PHI said it was “seeking to partner with Bell to route-prove its 525 model aircraft in certain markets”.

Maldonado says Bell is “talking to PHI and talking to others also” regarding the route-proving activity.

First, however, the airframer needs to clinch certification for the Relentless. Bell remains hopeful it will reach that milestone by the end of the year, but cautions that the pace will be dictated by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Nonetheless, based on its interactions with the regulator, Bell feels “much more comfortable that certification will happen this year”, he says.