Bell sees bright spots in what is an otherwise flat helicopter sales market throughout the Asia Pacific. The company is continuing its focus on its tradition of military sales throughout the APAC region, including its marinized UH-1Z, UH-1Y, and V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, as well as the 412 EPX that was developed in collaboration with Subaru.
David Sale, Bell managing director for Asia-Pacific, said the UH and V-22 aircraft are “perfect platforms” for the region and that the modernized 412 EPX will appeal to an already strong installed regional customer base for that series aircraft.
The 412 EPX is the platform for Japan’s UH-X, the replacement program for that country’s military UH-1J fleet. Deliveries to the Japan Defense Force (JDF) are expected to begin in 2022. The EPX features a new, 30-minute run-dry transmission, internal maximum gross weight of 12,200 lbs., and additional mast torque output at speeds less than 60 knots. By collaborating with Subaru on the EPX, Sale said Bell guarantees support for the 412 in the region for 50 years “and beyond.” After the show the EPX will embark on a regional demonstration tour.
Sale said the 412’s rugged design and high reliability make it popular in the area. “The aircraft can sit outside, take the heat and the moisture, and still have a pilot get out there, start it up and go flying. The 412’s readiness rate is the driver for our customers. It is an easily maintained aircraft that does exactly what they want it to do,” he said. “It’s a very capable aircraft at a good price point and there is knowledge and supportability in the region.” New orders for the aircraft continue he said, pointing to the Indonesian government for nine new 412s in 2018.
Bell’s new 525 super-medium twin has drawn strong interest throughout the region, Sale said, but he noted that likely customers are awaiting that aircraft’s certification approval prior to taking a more serious look at it. Nevertheless, Sale said he expected the aircraft to attract a following in APAC countries. “We are in multiple talks with various organizations” in the region on the 525,” he said. “It’s a fantastic platform. It is also extremely fast: We flew it from Dallas to Anaheim at 165 knots.” Sale said the 525’s fly-by-wire controls, advanced technology, ability to fly automated search modes, and 500 nm range make it the ideal search and rescue platform.
Bell’s other platforms are doing well in the region, Sale noted, with recent deliveries of 429 light twins into Thailand and continuing popularity of the 505 light single region-wide. Bell certified that aircraft to a service ceiling of 22,500 feet last year, facilitating two deliveries into Nepal with Simrik Air for use in mountaineering support and local clergy transport.
He also noted that more 505s in the region are being enlisted for air ambulance transport, primary military flight training, and air tourism. “The aircraft is priced right,” for military training, he said. Sale said the aircraft’s large forward windscreen more than compensates for an absence of a chin bubble, a potential concern for training operations. “You always have the horizon there right at your feet,” he said. The 505 is also drawing increased interest from agricultural applicators and utility operators, especially now since a cargo hook has been approved for the aircraft.
On the regional support side, Sale said Bell is making large advances, noting that Bell’s Singapore maintenance center more than doubled its MRO business between 2018 and 2019 and that Bell is becoming more focused on providing a full “solution set,” not just aircraft sales, to customers in the region. “We have a full complement of training aircraft in Singapore. While a lot of civil operators get recurrent training, governments don’t necessarily, so we are encouraging all maintainers to come in every couple of years for retraining on aircraft systems,” he said, noting that the visa situation in Singapore is “very easy” and that encourages customers in China to also come to Singapore.
Bell also maintains customer support reps in Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, and India and many of them are multilingual. At Singapore, the country maintains $20 million to $30 million in spares at any given time, and that, plus some “fine-tuning” has encouraged more customers in the region to enroll in Bell’s Customer Advantage Plans (CAP) parts by the hour program.
“We had some growing pains when the program first came out,” Sale acknowledged, but now it is positioned properly, he said. Initial CAP enrollees in the region were mostly 505 customers, but now he is seeing enrollment more evenly distributed across different airframes, he said.