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PARIS: Bell challenges R66 with new light single helicopter

Bell Helicopter has launched a new aircraft aimed at retaking the short light single (SLS) segment the company once pioneered with the 206 Jet Ranger but which is now dominated by the Robinson R66.

Bell unveiled the all-new SLS, which will be formally named at next year's Heli-Expo, as featuring a Garmin G1000 integrated flightdeck and powered by the 504shp (376kW) Turbomeca Arrius 2R, with a useful load of at least 680kg (1,500lb) and a maximum range of more than 360nm (667km).

The performance requirements were set based on input from an advisory panel made up of customers familiar with the performance of the R66 and Eurocopter EC120.

The latter had been the leader in the SLS segment until the arrival of the cheaper R66, which Robinson initially priced below $900,000 at list value.

Bell says that the new SLS will be competitive in the segment, but has not publicized a specific price target. The 206 Jet Ranger is currently valued in the $1.4 million range at list prices.

The production site for the new aircraft is the subject of a competition involving greenfield sites and existing Bell facilities, which are spread across Canada, the USA and Mexico. In the USA, Bell builds helicopters in Fort Worth and Amarillo, Texas, and has a completion centre in Tennessee.

The 206 has long outgrown the short-range category for a turbine-powered aircraft, leaving Bell without a product in the segment.

By combining a stretch of the piston-powered R22/R44, the Rolls-Royce RR300-powered R66 has quickly demonstrated a healthy market for such an aircraft with a price tag below $1 million. Robinson delivered nearly 200 R66s in 2012 alone, only three years after launching production.

Bell's strategy is to be competitive on price with the R66, but offer advanced avionics, more performance and a wider support network. The new aircraft will bear the signature Bell fuselage design, augmented with a high-visibility windscreen with a similar design to the 525 Relentless super-medium helicopter.

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