In his first remarks to the press on 21 January, Bell Helicopter’s newly-appointed chief executive Mitch Snyder says he plans to ramp up investment in a new wave of innovative products to enter the market in five to 15 years.
“I really want to spend more money now innovating on some technology types,” Snyder says. “It could be either a new airplane, new clean-sheet, or an upgrade or refresh with brand new innovation as we’ve talked before to existing products.”
Though the company has no specific timeframe for introducing the next wave of new products, Snyder set a window of five to 15 years for the investments to come to fruition.
“So when I’m saying we’re looking at some ‘cleans’ [clean-sheet designs], that’s out in the future,” he says.
The key driver of Bell’s approach to innovations is improving safety levels, Snyder says. The introduction of fly-by-wire controls on the 525 is an example of the safety-oriented technology strategy, he adds.
Snyder succeeds predecessor John Garrison, who departed in October to become chief executive of industrial equipment manufacturer Terex, in the midst of an innovative streak at Bell.
Three products launched in the last five years – the super-medium 525, light-single 505 and V-280 tiltrotor – are also in advanced development.
The 505 had been expected to achieve certification in “early” 2016, but Snyder now describes the timeframe as sometime this year. Certification testing has proceeded according to plan, he adds, and the manufacturer is “working with the regulatory authorities to get that done”.
Snyder brushed aside concerns about the financial impact of the downturn in the oil and gas market. He notes that the 525, which is aimed squarely at offshore operators, has 75 letters of intent from a broad range of market segments, but declines to break out how many are from outside oil and gas.
“We’ve not seen any movement [in the market] at this point yet,” Snyder says. “In two to three years we’ll have the product ready when oil and gas does come back.”
In broad terms, Snyder intends to continue the strategy that he helped develop under the former leadership team. Garrison joined the company in 2009 and quickly moved to rescue the company’s commercial division, which, prior to his arrival, had had lost its position as the industry’s largest civil helicopter supplier.
Bell still trails its European rivals, but now has rebalanced its portfolio of military and commercial helicopters with a host of product refreshes and new clean-sheet programmes.