Bell shuffles executive staff, chases new orders for 429

 - February 22, 2010, 9:03 AM

Bell Helicopter has announced senior staff changes and the integration of its XworX research and development center into its engineering department, at a time when questions persist about the company’s future role in the BA609 civil tiltrotor program and the launch customer for the 429 light twin helicopter seeks to back out of its purchase agreement.

Barry Kohler, vice president of commercial programs, has been promoted to president of Bell Helicopter Textron Canada. He succeeds Eric Cardinali, who has been named senior vice president of integrated supply chain for Textron’s Cessna Aircraft.

Kohler will be responsible for Bell Helicopter Canada’s manufacturing, engineering and flight-test operations in Mirabel, Quebec; a supply center in Calgary, Alberta; a warehouse facility near Mirabel in St. Jérôme; and the 1,600 employees at those sites.

Nick Lappos, who reported directly to Bell CEO John Garrison as a senior vice president and head of Bell’s XworX, has been appointed chief technology officer and will report to engineering executive vice president Jeff Lowinger as part of the integration of the engineering department and XworX. In his new role, Lappos will oversee and provide technical guidance for all developmental and production programs, chair the Irad (internal research and development) new product planning board, and represent Bell on the Vertical Lift Consortium. Technical fellows who previously reported to Lowinger will now report to Lappos.

Martin Peryea will assume the role of director of XworX, reporting directly to Lowinger. He will be responsible for the execution of the Bell technology Irad, major contract research and development programs, manufacturing technology development, XworX demonstration programs and operations, and Irad planning and administration.

Under Lappos, XworX had been involved primarily with developing a new generation of composite rotor hubs and main rotor blades for existing production helicopters and, to a limited extent, assisting Bell with resolving certain undisclosed development difficulties with the 429, a new light civil twin certified last July. In January, Bell 429 launch customer Air Methods told AIN that it would not be taking deliveries of any more 429s beyond the one it had received in October.

In 2004, Air Methods signed “letters of intent” for up to 15, and CJ Systems, a company it acquired in 2007, held letters for another 10. Air Methods CEO Aaron Todd cited a weight problem with the 429 “that Bell is working on” and the need to acquire more single-engine helicopters due to shifting market conditions as reasons for not acquiring more 429s.   

Last year Bell told AIN that it held letters of intent for more than 300 copies of the 429, and that it was in the process of converting them into firm orders. However, last month at the Singapore Air Show, Bell’s Garrison said that with only 50 of those converted to firm orders, the targeted production rate of the 429 had been reduced to 25 this year and 50 next year. Garrison said the company now has a
one-and-a-half-year backlog for the 429.

Bell is looking to the Asian market to improve the 429’s prospects, campaigning it on a sales tour of India and Japan.

It remains unclear what impact Bell’s latest management moves will have on its joint venture with AgustaWestland (AW) to develop the BA609 civil tiltrotor, or Bell’s appetite to continue that program in the face of increasing costs and AW’s public entreats to acquire a larger share of, or perhaps all of, the program.

Bell did not return AIN’s calls or e-mails soliciting information on the 429 and 609 programs.