Bell Helicopter will build its new short light single (SLS) helicopter at Lafayette Regional Airport in Louisiana, the company announced last month. Bell’s decision came after the state offered a generous incentive package that includes performance-based grants of $4 million for lease support on a new 82,300-sq-ft, $26.3 million hangar facility on a 14.5-acre site being funded by the state, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment and $200,000 to reimburse relocation expenses.
Bell will invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling and will hire an estimated 115 employees for the plant. Construction of the assembly hangar will begin in the first half of next year. Bell will begin hiring employees for the new facility by 2015, and assembly operations will start by 2016 following certification of the facility and the aircraft.
Announced at the Paris Air Show this past summer, the SLS will be powered by the Turbomeca Arrius 2R and feature Garmin G1000H avionics, a useful load of 1,500 pounds, a speed of 125 knots and a cruising range of more than 400 nm.
The Bell SLS assembly facility represents the latest in a series of new aerospace industry projects for Louisiana. The state has long been a defense aerospace hub, with facilities that include the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command and Eighth Air Force, both headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base and the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, La., near New Orleans. Lately it has been aggressively pursuing civil aerospace projects with a variety of incentives, including an “Aerospace Manufacturing Payroll Incentive” that provides a rebate of up to 12 percent of a company’s new payroll for a period of up to 10 years. In 2010 Louisiana unsuccessfully tried to persuade then cash-strapped Hawker Beechcraft to relocate to the state with a $500 million incentive package.
In August, AAR announced the establishment of a 750-employee maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility for widebody aircraft at Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, La. In conjunction with the AAR project, Louisiana is establishing a national Aircraft MRO Center of Excellence that will serve Northrop Grumman and other aviation service providers. Northrop Grumman and its predecessors have performed aircraft MRO operations for more than two decades at Chennault. Boeing and Lockheed Martin also have aerospace production facilities in the state.
Lafayette and the Acadiana, Bayou and Southwest regions of Louisiana are home to large helicopter operators that have served the offshore oil-and-gas, aerospace training and emergency services businesses. PHI is headquartered in Lafayette and ERA Helicopters is based in Lake Charles. Bristow Group also has a large presence in the state with its Bristow Academy campus in New Iberia.