Bell Helicopter has confirmed that service entry of its new clean-sheet 525 Relentless super-medium-class rotorcraft has slipped to 2017.

First delivery had been due to take place late next year, but Bell chief executive John Garrison says the milestone is “currently forecast for late Q1 2017”.

“It has slipped slightly – less than 90 days. In the grand scheme of things it is relatively insignificant,” he says.

However, in more positive news, Bell is closing in on first flight of the new helicopter which, says Garrison, will take place “within weeks”.

The initial prototype is fully assembled and has performed a number of pre-flight checks, including ground runs of its main engines and APU and “safety of flight testing”.

“We are getting real close to a safe first flight,” he says, although he plays down the possibility that this could take place before the Paris air show.

An image of the assembled – although lacking its five-blade main rotors – and painted prototype bearing the registration N525TA appeared on Bell’s website in late May.

Bell 525 painted

Bell Helicopter

Bell hopes for a further programme boost at Le Bourget, where it anticipates unveiling a substantial new order for the near-8.75t rotorcraft from a customer in the oil and gas services segment. This would add to the current confirmed backlog for the type of 40 aircraft.

Garrison believes the current downturn in the oil industry may actually turn out to have a “silver lining” for Bell and the GE Aviation CT7-powered 525, which he argues will arrive just as the offshore market bounces back.

“People are postponing their major capital acquisition decisions and that’s a good thing for us because we are still seeing robust interest in the 525,” he says.

Three flight-test aircraft should be airborne by year-end, he says, with two more 525s joining the certification effort early in 2016.

The 525 will be the first civil helicopter to enter the market with full fly-by-wire controls, for which there is currently no certification standard.

Bell is continuing to work with regulators on both sides of the Atlantic to establish those requirements, says Garrison, and has made “significant progress in this arena”.