Bell Helicopter is on a mission, to diversify its business model. CEO John Garrison wants to increase the company’s share of revenues from the civil sector, now estimated at 40 percent of its overall 2012 results of $4.2 billion.
“We want to reduce our dependence on military sales, particularly U.S. military sales,” by growing the company’s share of the civil sector, Garrison told AIN. Right now a big chunk of Bell’s military sales come from its joint venture with Boeing to build the V-22 military tiltotor at its Amarillo, Texas plant and the company plans to build its new civil 525 super-medium helicopter there as well. Amarillo also is the build site for the Marine Corps’ H-1 series of UH-1Z attack and UH-1Y tactical troop helicopters. Bell is almost a third of the way along in that contract for 364 ships. Garrison is looking to increase export sales of all of its military products, including the first foreign military sale of the V-22.
“Several countries–and I’m not at liberty to say which ones–have taken the next step to go into LOR or LOA [letters of request/authorization and acceptance] beyond the pricing and availability stage,” he said. “We do continue to make progress. We do believe that once the first sale is completed that it will be a catalyst for further sales on the V-22. So we made good progress, but we didn’t get a contract signed. We did make good progress with the FMS [foreign military sales] last year. Likewise on the H-1 program we are competing in the Korean helicopter attack program…against the [Boeing AH-64D] Apache and we think we have made tremendous progress there.”
Aside from more foreign sales, Garrison also thinks there is room for more domestic military sales of the V-22.
Within the existing program of record there are 48 aircraft designated for the U.S. Navy and they are doing an analysis to use the V-22 to replace the C2 turboprop for the COD [carrier on board delivery] mission,” Garrison said, pointing out that, unlike the C2, the V-22 can land on multiple ship platforms, “not just big deck carriers.”
On the civil side, sales are up dramatically at Bell, increasing 50 percent last year. In 2012, Bell delivered 188 civil helicopters, most of those 407GXs with the new Garmin G1000H glass cockpit. The new 429 light twin and venerable 412EP also sold well, with 43 and 39 copies delivered, respectively. “Bell had an outstanding year last year,” Garrison said.
While the company continues to make improvements to its existing product line, Bell’s major civil initiative is clearly the 525 Relentless, an 18,000-pound “plus” twin slated for first flight in 2014. A marketing cockpit simulator of the 525 that demonstrates the aircraft’s fly-by-wire control capability is in the Bell booth (No. N5612) at Heli-Expo.
“Textron has enabled us to make significant increases in our product investment–we’ve increased our engineering budget by almost 50 percent over the last four years,” Garrison said. “[Textron chairman] Scott Donnelly and the board [of directors] understand the need to invest in product and service to remain competitive. We are a technology-based company. As long as we can continue to deliver the financial results that they expect…and we can, we have tremendous support.”
Last year Bell posted net income of $693 million.
Garrison said Bell made significant changes to its processes and procedures with regard to the 525, engaging regulators, customers and vendors much earlier in the design process and embracing the latest all-digital design tools. “We are making progress on the 525 and you will see that here at the show.” Garrison said that part fabrication on the helicopter, announced at Heli-Expo ‘12, had already begun.
Gross Weight Increase for Bell 429
Bell continues to work with regulators to win a gross weight exemption for its 429 light twin to 7,500 pounds. Sixteen countries have approved the exemption to date. While the FAA denied the exemption last year, it did recently open public comment on revising the standards for Part 27 (7,000 pounds and under) and larger Part 29 aircraft. The 429 was certified under Part 27.
“Our focus is to work with the regulatory authorities to describe the aircraft’s capability at 7,500 pounds and the enhanced safety that provides. Basically, we are asking to increase the incremental fuel load–not carry more passengers. The aircraft clearly has the capability to do so and it will enhance the operators’ ability to use the aircraft’s IFR/Waas capabilities with the 429, Garrison said.
In addition to the 525 cockpit simulator, Bell also is introducing “Mission Theater” at its booth, a series of 30-minute “thought-leadership presentations” presented by Bell executives and industry experts. Aside from presenting updates on its own products including the 525, “Mission Theater” will cover a variety of hot-button issues including “Human Factors and Safety in the Rotary Wing Environment,” “Managing Direct Maintenance Costs,” and “Mission Solutions–Advancing the EMS Segment.”
Garrison said Mission Theater provides an opportunity to more closely address customer needs. “Heli-Expo is unquestionably one of our most important events each year,” said Garrison. “As the largest helicopter show in the world, it gathers together many of our most important customers, prospects and suppliers and is an ideal environment for us to interact with our customers and hear more about what is important to them.” The Mission Theater schedule is posted at www.bellonamission.com.