Bell ramps up 429 production

 - October 27, 2010, 6:06 AM

Bell Helicopter will have manufactured 33 of its new 429 light twins, sold most of them and completed certification of customer option kits for the aircraft by year-end. That is the word from Larry Roberts, Bell senior vice president of commercial business, who said the company is "bullish" on its global marketing efforts, continuing to pursue a dual-pronged attack to reduce the weight of the 429 and proceeding with plans to develop a version of the rotorcraft with wheeled landing gear. 

Roberts said Bell is trying to get weight out of the 429 "in the manufacturing ­process" and looking at the feasibility of "performance and weight gain through regulatory bodies." He said most of the kits should be certified by the end of the month, adding that delays in the process were exacerbated by a "supplier environment" adversely impacted by the economy that "caused us to slip a little bit on the kits." 

Roberts said that 429 production is gradually ramping up according to plan. "As we ramp up, the learning curve goes down. That's good for us and good for the customer." Roberts predicted that Bell easily would build easily 80 copies of the 429 by the end of next year. He said that 429 sales are a combination of successfully converted letters of intent coupled with completely new clients.

Bell had delivered five 429s by the end of last month, but Roberts said the company's aggressive campaigning of the helicopter, with flight demonstrations in South America, South Africa, Europe, Japan, Russia, China and Australia, is beginning to bear fruit. The OEM's six-week European campaign covered 13 countries, while a demonstration aircraft based in Japan has flown more than 1,700 passengers and not missed a single flight. "I think the helicopter is generating a lot of excitement, and we are building a significant pool of prospects," Roberts said.
In September, Bell announced the sale of four 429s in Japan and confirmed that it had sold its first 429 in China. Working through Heliflite China, it sold a 429 to industrialist Ren Jianjun, who currently flies his own 206B-3. 

Bell also has begun 429 deliveries to customers in Canada. Those helicopters are being outfitted with executive interiors at both Bell Mirabel and its Edwards & Associates affiliate in Tennessee.

The 429 is the first step in the revitalization of Bell's commercial programs, according to Roberts. He said the company is "evaluating" an aircraft to replace the 206B-3 JetRanger. "We think that an entry-level helicopter for a large OEM is something that needs to be considered," he said.

The resurgence of Bell's civil sector is in line with improved financial performance throughout the company. For the second quarter of this year, its revenue increased (to $823 million, a jump of 23 percent), while its operating profit rose 50 percent to $108 million.