Bell Helicopter made the first delivery of the 505 light-single helicopter in a 7 March ceremony during Heli-Expo, returning to a market segment the company popularised with the 206 JetRanger almost 50 years ago.
Although one year behind schedule, the entry into service of the 505 is expected to lift Bell’s fortunes in a period when the civil helicopter market remains soft and the 525 flight test programme is awaiting the results of a fatal crash last July.
“This marks the first of many deliveries, and we feel that we truly hit the mark on delivering on our commitments to provide a safe, reliable and high-performing aircraft to the short light single market,” says Patrick Moulay, Bell’s executive vice-president of global sales and marketing.
The 505 re-introduces Bell to the light-single market it abandoned with the demise of 206 production 2010, just as the turbine-powered Robinson R66 entered the market at a price point around $800,000, or about half the cost of a 206B3 at the time.
The 505 introduces new technology into a Bell light single, with a Garmin G1000H avionics suite and a Safran Arrius 2R engine managed with a dual-channel full authority digital engine control. But Bell also hoped to keep costs low, so leveraged the 206L-4 rotor system and a conventional metal airframe.
Despite a year-long delay in flight testing, which was blamed partly on a repositioning of the horizontal stabilser, Bell received a type certificate for the 505 from Transport Canada last December.
The beginning of deliveries mean Bell can begin converting letters of intent for more 350 505s into firm orders. The company’s challenge will be to keep costs as low as possible, with a goal of hitting a $1 million price point to compete against the roughly $900,000 price tag on an R66.
For his part, Kurt Robinson, chief executive of the maker of the R66, isn’t going to back down despite rising competitive pressure. Robinson delivered only 63 R66 helicopters in 2016, the lowest shipment total for the type since the year it was introduced into service.
Still, he thinks the R66 will continue to thrive alone in the light-single turbine market under the $1 million price point. The 505 instead will occupy a more expensive segment of the light single market, with a price including mandated options stretching to $1.3-$1.4 million per aircraft, he says.