Bell Helicopter (Booth No. 4536) CEO John Garrison said there was never any doubt what the company really planned to call its new light single.
“There’s so much brand equity in the Jet Ranger. It’s phenomenal. It brings tears to people’s eyes. We knew we wanted Jet Ranger. X is the next generation of Jet Ranger.”
Garrison said the decision to locate the 505 final assembly plant in Louisiana was a “competitive process” made across several states and several countries. “We have two smaller operations in the Lafayette [Louisiana] area now. We know them. It was the right decision for us.”
Garrison said the establishment of a new “green field” plant in Lafayette enables Bell to build cost-cutting lean manufacturing processes into the plant’s design. While he declined to estimate plant production capacity, he said, “Hopefully we have a capacity constraint” due to large demand.
Bell intends to meet the 505’s price point, estimated in the million-dollar range, by being “very rigorous to the requirements. No more and no less than the requirements. It’s designed to the requirements, designed for manufacturability, and designed for assembly to that price point. It also means that we are using a broader supply base and bringing their capabilities to the program. Before we designed and manufactured every piece part. We’re not doing that [now]. We’re going to suppliers who can provide subassemblies to us. We’ll control the blades and the transmissions as we always have. But we’re using suppliers’ capabilities to get to the price point. The 505 is designed to cost this much. The price elasticity is very clear.”
While helicopter leasing appears to be moving downstream into smaller helicopters with the advent of new players specializing in that market, Infinity among them, Garrison said his company has not yet had any discussion with lessors involving light helicopters, including the 505.
Garrison said increased European content on its new civil models, including the 505, “Came down to selecting the best vendor and the right product for the specific application. Clearly there is a tangential benefit that will help us in Europe. But the principal driving force was the right supplier and the right component for that application.”
The Bell executive also talked about two of Bell’s other programs. He said the company is beginning to take strategic launch orders on its 525 super-medium twin and that the announcement of an order for 10 yesterday from Abu Dhabi Aviation, a member of the customer advisory panel for the aircraft, was placed because “They felt it was time to make an announcement about their public commitment to the program.”
Bell’s reconsideration petition of a previously denied application for an increased gross weight limit to 7,500 pounds on its 429 light twin remains pending with the FAA, Garrison said. And while he declined to comment on the status of that appeal, he said it served to open a wider debate as to revamping the future certification standards for both Part 27 and Part 29 helicopters, a discussion that has gained support from industry and participation from the FAA. The central question, Garrison said, is, “Are the [current] rules enhancing our ability toward delivering a safer product or are they inhibiting our ability to bring new technology to the marketplace?”