Textron's Bell unit is counting on aftermarket military aircraft support revenues and the success of its Future Vertical Lift (FVL) offerings to bridge the gap in military revenues when the Bell-Boeing V-22 tiltrotor program winds down in 2024, said CEO Scott Donnelly. The V-22 program comprises nearly half of Bell’s military revenues. Military customers accounted for nearly two-thirds of Bell’s 2018 total revenues of $3.18 billion. Bell currently has contracts for 63 more V-22s through 2024. V-22s have flyaway prices of between $76 million and $86.8 million each depending on configuration. Donnelly held out the possibility that the V-22 order book would grow with the addition of foreign military sales (FMS), which he also said was a possibility for the H-1 program that produces modernized versions of the Cobra gunship and twin-Huey.
In a conference call with stock analysts last week, Donnelly noted that the Army is picking up the tempo of the FVL program and that Bell “can support doing that.” Donnelly said that Bell’s main FVL offering to date, the V-280 demonstration aircraft, has demonstrated low-level agility “superior to the helicopters that are out there today.” He credited the V-280 flight test program to date with persuading the Army to request more money for FVL in terms of the FARA (future attack and reconnaissance aircraft) and FLRAA (future long-range attack aircraft) programs. “You have to remember, though, when they [the Army] put all those budgets together, that was really before the V-280 was very far into its flight test program. So I would say that it has influenced things pretty significantly.”
While Bell has drawn considerable media attention with a mock-up of its Nexus hybrid eVTOL air taxi, Donnelly characterized research and development spending on the enabling technologies as “relatively small,” adding that “we need to see how does that market really play out. I think there is a lot of uncertainty. I think if it is going to happen, clearly, our team at Bell can design and build aircraft that would fit that marketplace. But right now, it’s something that’s a relatively low level of funding compared to where we allocate the things that are more important here in the nearer term, which is primarily around FVL.” He said Bell’s autonomous pod transport unmanned cargo drones would likely have a faster future to market due to “interest in the military for that kind of technology.”