China was the driving force behind Bell's ability to increase its civil helicopter order book by 75 percent last year. For the year, Bell posted 251 net commercial orders compared with 148 in 2016. That tally included orders for 100 model 407GXPs (since upgraded to 407GXis) from Shaanxi Helicopter Co. Ltd and commitments for 110 new 505 Jet Ranger Xs from Reignwood International Investment Group. “So you can see on the order side we had big uptick and a lot of that had to do with China as we announced throughout the year,” said Bell CEO Mitch Snyder. “We're going to keep investing in the Chinese market, we're really going to work and partner with them on investing in infrastructure, making sure that's there when you have that [number] of incoming aircraft. We want to make sure that that's taken care of as well as future sales,” he said.
Snyder did not rule out producing helicopters in China at a future date, but for now, he said, the company is working with Shaanxi to re-assemble and complete them in country. “We're working with Shaanxi as a partnership, and while we're building most of the aircraft [in Canada] there will be some things they will do in country such as some customization on their aircraft. After that first 100 [aircraft], we'll see where the partnership goes, but we think, in the future, there may be an opportunity for [production].” Bell began delivering 407s to Shaanxi in August 2017.
At this year's Heli-Expo in Las Vegas, Bell announced its latest upgraded version of the the 407GXP, the 407GXi, and said Shaanxi's $300 million order for GXPs would be converted to GXi models at no additional cost and that it would receive the first delivery of the upgraded model. The 407GXi features the Garmin G1000H NXi integrated flight deck and a new Rolls-Royce M250-C47E/4 engine with dual-channel Fadec that delivers better high/hot performance, full automatic relight, and the ability to cruise at 133 knots. The 407GXi was certified by Transport Canada on January 19, and first deliveries are scheduled for near mid-year. The G1000HNXi features high-definition displays and faster processors with increased brightness and clarity, faster startup and map rendering, and connectivity to smartphones and tablets. New options for the 407GXi include a redesigned executive cabin; Garmin FlightStream 510 that allows pilots to upload flight plans from devices; Garmin SurfaceWatch that provides runway identification and alerting technology; a 3,100-pound cargo hook; and health & usage monitoring (HUMS) for aircraft systems diagnostics.
Bell is also supporting its customers in China with technicians from its Seletar maintenance hub in Singapore. As part of its agreement with Reignwood, that company will act as the exclusive reseller of the Bell 505 light single in China and establish a maintenance center for the helicopter in the country. Bell holds certification approvals for the 505 from more than 20 countries worldwide to date and more than 400 letters of intent to purchase.