Bell plans a "soft" service debut in 2019 for its super-medium 525 Relentless helicopter as it continues to eye an oil and gas market that is still dealing with a significant oversupply of rotorcraft.

First delivery of the fly-by-wire Relentless is due in late 2019, but the company estimates it will take "a couple of years" before the industry fully absorbs the "many second-hand aircraft that are standing idle", says Patrick Moulay, Bell senior vice-president commercial business – international.

That figure of "over 100" aircraft includes Airbus Helicopters H225s and AS332 L2s, Sikorsky S-92s and "to some degree the [Leonardo] AW139 as well", says Moulay.

Moulay says the large idle fleet is a "significant issue for the industry", with oil and gas companies much more likely to select the "easy, ready-to-go option" over new orders.

He stresses that Bell has already "made a decision to adjust" initial output on the late-running 525 "to make sure we had a soft launch" and that production "ramps up gently".

"We have been extremely cautious on that aspect," he says. "We don't want by any means to participate in this over-supply. I invite all my colleagues from Airbus and Leonardo to take the same approach.

"We need to make sure the industry absorbs those [parked] aircraft first."

Deliveries of the 525 in 2019 – initially in the VIP and offshore segments – "will be a very low number", with output ramping up in 2020-2021.

Certification of the 9.3t Relentless is due next year, around four years later than originally planned, but approval of the helicopter's full ice protection system – crucial for some offshore and search and rescue (SAR) applications – is not scheduled until 2021, says Moulay.

In addition, approval for SAR or military mission equipment will take a similar timeframe to obtain.

To date, the programme has accumulated 270h, with the two remaining 525 prototypes both back in the air; the initial aircraft was written off in a 2016 crash which killed two pilots and brought flight tests to a halt for 12 months.

Two further examples of the GE Aviation CT7-powered twin are in various stages of assembly ahead of first flights later this year.

Meanwhile, Bell is gearing up to deliver the first light-single 505 Jet Ranger X into China, with certification from the country's civil aviation regulator due in the coming weeks.

Last year, Bell secured deals for 110 units from Chinese firm Reignwood International Investment Group, with will act as exclusive distributor for the type.

The company will receive 11-12 505s this year, says Moulay, with another 25 earmarked for China in 2019.