Bell’s Garrison sees bright future for conventional helicopters

 - September 4, 2013, 12:25 AM

While Bell Helicopter may be banking on its tiltrotor technology to recapture market dominance in U.S. Army aviation, the civil market will continue to rely on conventional helicopter design for some years to come, CEO John Garrison told AIN.

“Bell and Boeing have the first successful hybrid helicopter program in the V-22 [Osprey]. It’s combat-proved and the safest aircraft in the Marine Corps inventory for the last 10 years,” Garrison said. “There is revolutionary capability with tiltrotors. Given the space and needs of the future, we believe in the case for the [Pentagon’s] JMR [joint multi-role requirement] and FVL [future vertical lift], and we believe tiltrotors provide the best solution to that market, with capabilities to cruise at up to 280 knots [Bell’s proposed V-280 Valor third-generation tiltrotor for the JMR] at 6,000 feet and 95 degrees F. We believe there is no other technical solution to this requirement. In the intermediate years you are going to see tiltrotors assume a much larger role in the military.”

Conventional Technology for the Civil Market

But Garrison believes that this transition to compound technology will not necessarily translate into the more cost-sensitive civil market. “There is going to be a role for conventional helicopters, but there will be room to increase the capabilities of those aircraft similar to what we are doing on the [super-medium] 525 with fly-by-wire systems, integrated avionics systems, Cat-A performance with no risk, and things of that nature,” Garrison said. “But I believe that 40 years from now, while you will see significantly more tiltrotors in the military, you will continue to see conventional helicopters in the commercial [segment]. Time will tell if the technology converges after that time.”

Garrison also said he believes the way OEMs sell helicopters is evolving, with more life-cycle solutions coming to market. “There will be customers looking to buy whose primary issue is up-front acquisition costs and they want to handle all the downstream maintenance going forward. All they need from us is a parts stream. There are other customers who are looking for component, such as engine-hour, programs that have been going on for some time. But now we are seeing it for other components such as transmissions, blades and so forth. It is going to evolve and ultimately requires both parties–seller and buyer–to understand who can best manage the risk and provide the most value at these intersection points. Whoever can do that the best will take advantage of that risk and earn the return for taking and managing that risk. There will not be a one-size-fits-all solution in the rotorcraft [segment]. Every market segment is unique and will have unique needs,” Garrison said.

Garrison said he sees more international design collaboration for new helicopter programs, particularly in the civil sector, in the future. Bell is currently using an international design team on its recently announced Short Light Single (SLS) helicopter. “It is a global, competitive marketplace, a 24/7, 365-day-a-year marketplace. Companies need to be able to leverage capabilities in different areas and to interact digitally in these markets in real time. It’s not the way of the future. We’re doing it today. It’s what’s needed to compete in the global marketplace today,” he concluded.