Singapore Air Show

Bell bullish on military; suffering in civil sales

 - February 2, 2010, 11:43 PM

Bell Helicopter’s new CEO, John Garrison, is expecting 2010 to be a flat year in terms of civil deliveries, but he said he sees significant growth on the military side, thanks to a production ramp-up for the V-22 tiltrotor and the H-1. Military revenues should jump by 15 percent, he added. Bell is here on Stand Q01 and on the static display with the new Bell 429 light twin, which is touring Asia.

According to Garrison, for his company, 2009 was as challenging in Asia as it was in the rest of the world. “Overall, we saw a tremendous number of cancellations in the first three quarters, but net orders were in the black again in the fourth quarter,” he told AIN.

Civil woes were offset by healthy military and aftermarket activities, he said. The company reduced costs in the civil production lines, Garrison said, which involved job cuts. The bottom line was that 2009 was Bell’s record year in terms of operating earnings and cash flow.

The Bell 429, the company’s newest product is visiting Asian operators on an tour that started in mid-January here in Singapore. After the show, the tour will continue to India and Japan. Garrison told AIN the 429 has “good sales prospects in the region.”

Production plans call for 25 units to be manufactured this year, ramping up to 50 next year. These numbers are down from 40 and 80, respectively, as announced last summer.

Garrison said the company now has a one-year-and-a-half backlog for the 429. As of last summer, Bell held about 300 letters of intent, but converting them into firm contracts has proved painful. It has received second deposits for only 50 aircraft and is working on another 50 conversions. The rest have come to a dead end.

The company also is evaluating locations in the region where it could establish a major facility that would be a maintenance, completion and distribution center. Bell’s Asian headquarters and distribution hub currently are here in Singapore. It has about 15 customer service centers in the region.

In the military field, Bell is bidding for the Indian Navy’s replacement of light helicopters, for which it is pitching the 429. “This is the early phase of a process for about 60 aircraft,” Garrison said.