Bell Helicopter’s Singapore maintenance and training center celebrated its fifth anniversary last year and is looking to expand its product offerings and capabilities. The center is co-located with a Textron Aviation facility in the Seletar Aerospace Park. The combined 14,864-sq-m (160,000-sq-ft) facility consists of separate hangars for Bell and Textron Aviation, with a paint booth, warehouse, overhaul and maintenance shops, offices and a 7,154-sq-m (77,000-sq-ft) ramp. Available services include training, aircraft customization and completions, major refurbishment projects, labor and parts sales, as well as maintenance, repair and overhaul.
Chris Schaefer, general manager for Bell Helicopter Asia-Pacific and Oceana, said the facility supports 1,260 Bell helicopters operating throughout the region and that the Singapore service center touched 58 aircraft last year. The center employs 55 on the maintenance side and brings in instructors as needed from the Bell Training Center in Fort Worth, Texas, to supplement based staff.
“We schedule a course based on market demand and we bring the specialist in to teach that specific course,” Schaefer said. Concurrently, Bell instructors work throughout the region at customer facilities per customer requirements. For now, most of the pilot training takes place at the Bell Academy in Fort Worth, Texas, because that is what customers prefer, Schaefer said. “Since 2012 the region has really developed an appetite for additional training, so we’ve moved very quickly to keep pace with demand.”
Last year Bell (Chalet Q01) reworked the layout of its Singapore facility, making more space for training and making the space more efficient, centralizing the location of maintenance training aids, airframes and components for students. “Now students have a more comfortable, dedicated, and convenient area to study in, and the students were happy to have everything all in one space. They don't need to navigate through the building like they did before,” Schaefer said. Bell also is customizing its training courses in Singapore based on customer needs. “In the [United] States a full-blown 412 maintenance course might be three weeks, but here we put customized solutions together for the customers” that can lead to longer courses up to six weeks, Schaefer said.
Support for All of Asia
On the support side, Bell Singapore maintains a large assembly, parts, and components inventory. “We’ve continued to invest heavily in the Singapore inventory,” Schaefer said. “We have 14,000 SKUs [part numbers] right now and S$47 million (US$36 million) worth of assets. It’s a combination of individual piece parts and handful of select dynamics components.
"We support all of Asia out of this office, with the exception of Japan; that is directly supported out of Fort Worth. With our new SAP [enterprise resource planning] system we can pull inventory in from the other global satellite locations, Calgary [Canada] and Amsterdam [the Netherlands]. We can move dynamically to get the assets where they need to be.”
Bell Singapore additionally is leveraging the capabilities of Textron Aviation’s recently acquired Able Aerospace Services unit, which provides approved parts, repairs, overhauls, and exchanges. “When we get a component in for repair or overhaul we can decide to do the overhaul here, send it back to Able, or a combination thereof. For example, we can send subassembly components to Able for rework and do the re-assembly here. This relationship has benefited the customer in terms of reduced turnaround time,” Schaefer said.
Bell’s new Customer Assurance Program (CAP) hourly fee parts enrollment is proving popular in the region and also is creating more demand, not only for the program itself, but also for ancillary and related services, Schaefer said. “Our CAP customers are requesting additional services. CAP is a great parts program, but customers also want help with maintenance planning and inspections. So in 2018 we are going to be coupling some of those services with CAP.”
Schaefer said maintenance demand preferences have changed over the past five to 10 years as the Asia-Pacific market has grown. “It was a new aircraft market, and demand was basically for oil changes and warranty claims. Now, there’s a heavy maintenance component with a high-flying tempo that developed organically. Now, operators are looking for services tied into the Bell training academy and sophisticated MRO operations and facilities that can assist them with complementing existing maintenance activities. Here in Singapore we [provide] everything from new aircraft deliveries and customization to heavy maintenance and line maintenance.
“We have a group of [technicians] traveling in the region to help customers. This week half of my [technicians] are in China. There’s been lots of growth and development and we’ve added specialists both on the maintenance floor and at the training academy.”
Maintenance activity at the Singapore center is distributed fairly evenly across Bell’s commercial line.
“We’re really getting a good mix between 407, 429, 412 and delivering the first 505s into the region. I have two 505s that are going to Cambodia in the hangar right now,” Schaefer said.
For now, 505 customization is being handled by Bell Mirabel. The completed helicopters are then disassembled, crated, and shipped to Singapore for reassembly and customer delivery. However, longer-term, Schaefer said that Bell Singapore would undoubtedly perform 505 customization as it does with the company’s other models.
He said the parapublic helicopter market throughout the region is growing “exponentially” and demand for the company’s multi-mission 429 light single is on the upswing. “We have seen more parapublic spending and letters of interest throughout the region. We delivered the first EMS-configured 429s out of Singapore last year to Thailand. We’ve seen a huge increase in the 429’s popularity in Asia-Pacific and we’ve done a lot of those configuration changes here.”
Offshore energy throughout the region is making a comeback, and that has triggered an increase in demand for MRO services, especially for 407s and 412s, Schaefer said. “We’re getting more solicitations for heavy maintenance on oil-and-gas aircraft. The operators have had a few lean years, and they have held back on their maintenance budgets as much as possible. Now they are looking to get those helicopters ship-shape.”
Overall, Schaefer said, “Deliveries out of Singapore in 2017 have been exceptional, and we expect another steep increase in 2018. We have a fairly robust delivery schedule this year. The whole region is coming up.”