Coping with a slowdown in both commercial and military sales, Bell Helicopter has laid off 45 more nonunion employees, bringing to 800 the number of jobs it has eliminated in its Dallas/Fort Worth and Mirabel, Quebec plants since September. While the layoffs have been taken from nearly every division of the company, by far the largest percentage has come from manufacturing operations.
While its bigger cousin in the Marines stays grounded, work on the civil tiltrotor is proceeding in the same Bell Helicopter hangars from which the first prototype V-22 Ospreys rolled out some 13 years ago in Arlington, Texas.
As spring flooded north along America’s Atlantic seaboard, news from the tiltrotor front began to improve somewhat. The mandated modification work on the U.S. Marines’ Osprey fleet was proceeding, closing in on a resumption of flight tests expected to happen this month. Critics of the embattled Bell Boeing program seem to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Glenn Hess, a longtime Boeing and McDonnell Douglas senior executive, has been named president and COO of Bell Helicopter. He fills a hole in the senior staff vacated by John Murphey when he was promoted to chairman and CEO. Key to both Hess’ and Murphey’s success will be putting Bell’s troubled civil and military tiltrotor programs back on track.
While Bell Helicopter and program partner Agusta Aerospace are pondering their next moves in the ongoing saga of tiltrotor development (see page 1), both parties were recently informed by the U.S military that they must find space to store 19 military
Stating that “the V-22 must lead tiltrotor technology into the marketplace,” Bell Helicopter has opted to shelve its BA609 civil tiltrotor following first flight of a prototype later this year, indefinitely delaying introduction of the world’s first production-oriented civil tiltrotor until problems with the U.S. Marines’ V-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport can be ironed out.
Bell Helicopter Textron last month announced plans to lay off 270 workers at its Fort Worth-area plants. The job cuts will affect both union-represented hourly workers and salaried employees. A spokesman for the rotorcraft builder said further cutbacks were possible as the company reevaluated its position in the slumping world helicopter market and as the effects of investigations and slowdowns in the U.S.
A recent top executive appointment at Textron signifies more than just a leadership change. It was also part of a continued reorganization of the company’s corporate structure that started about a year ago and will affect its operating units, including Cessna Aircraft and Bell Helicopter.
Beset with stagnant civil sales, a stymied multi-billion-dollar, investment-intensive defense project and a dearth of new programs in the pipeline, Bell Helicopter Textron has decided, like the beer world, to take a chance on a “lite” product, in this case a new lightweight, lower-cost turbine single helicopter.
Bell Helicopter chairman and chief executive John Murphey is in the sort of corporate hotseat many top executives yearn for: command of a major corporation at the precise moment that corporation is in, if not the fight of its life, certainly some very tough times indeed.