Bell Helicopter is betting on two clean-sheet commercial rotorcraft to boost its presence in the civilian helicopter market, and, while neither has entered production, the company has hundreds of customers lined up for the light-single and super-medium offerings.
The company saw decline in profits from both sectors in 2014, chief executive John Garrison tells reporters on 2 March at Helicopter Association International’s annual HeliExpo in Orlando Florida.
Garrison blamed sales stagnation on economic unrest in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, as well as “economic malaise” in certain regions of the world, including the flagging US government spending on military aircraft.
“Our view of the rortorcraft industry has not changed. We go through some short ups and downs, but we believe it is an attractive and growing global industry.”
Bell’s clean-sheet super-medium 525 Relentless has yet to fly despite an original deadline of December 2014. Most of the major subsytems have completed safety of flight testing except “a couple transmissions”, Garrison says.
The tail boom was connected to the first of five prototype 525s and the engines mounted the last week of February, he says.
“We’re getting closer and closer to first flight,” he says.
Still, Bell has announced letters of intent for at least 10 aircraft and intend to announce more LOIs at HeliExpo, Garrison says. A major hurdle is certification of the 525’s fly-by-wire flight control system, which will be the first ever in a commercial helicopter. Garrison says Bell continues to work with the FAA during regular monthly meetings to get the system certificated.
Bell’s other new clean-sheet design, the 505 JetRanger X, flew for the first time in November and the second test aircraft flew in late February.
The company also announced the sale of 15 407GX helicopters to the Mexican air force. Another 16 examples of the light-single were sold to customers in the Middle East, Garrison says.