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Monday, August 1, 2011

50s Theme for Bell 429, 407GX

By Thierry Dubois

On the left display, the pilot can have a camera view of the tailrotor for obstacle clearance. Thierry Dubois Photo

Between commercial launch in February and the Paris Air Show in June, Bell Helicopter is reporting sales of around 50 examples of its 407GX, the newest version of the light single, fitted with a Garmin G1000H avionics suite. Meanwhile, the manufacturer is planning to deliver the 50th copy of its newest light twin—the Bell 429—by the end of 2011.

Larry Roberts, Bell’s senior vice president for commercial business, insisted the new cockpit for the 407GX brings enhanced situational awareness. “This is practically IFR equipment in a VFR aircraft,” he said. The G1000 had so far only been installed in fixed-wing aircraft in the light and business aviation markets. Safety information (such as traffic collision avoidance and ground proximity warning), navigation graphics and engine parameters are grouped on two large displays.

It only took 18 months for Bell and Garmin engineers to develop the 407 version of the G1000H and get it certified. From a commercial standpoint, it is deemed a success. Roberts said the 50-or-so sales are firm orders. For the list price of $2.795 million, customers also get a camera looking at the tailrotor. It is useful both close to the ground for obstacle clearance and, in flight, to check the health of the tailrotor after a bird strike.

According to Roberts, the 429 is “continuing to do very well.” At the Paris Air Show, the company signed at least one firm order. “We have sold between 40 and 50 Bell 429s,” Roberts said. Delivery plans seem to have been downgraded as, in March, he was expecting to have delivered between 70 and 80 examples of the 429 by the end of 2011. Before certification in July 2009 and before the downturn hit the helicopter industry—particularly the light segment—Bell claimed to have sold over 300 Bell 429s.

Deliveries to European customers will start this year, Roberts predicted in June. Globally, about 40 percent of the customers are EMS operators. Roberts would not put a number on the 429’s production rate at the Montreal, Quebec factory. Nevertheless, he reflected on the difficulties that impeded the helicopter’s early production phase. “Some needed changes were discovered along the production processes; it took some time to correct these problems,” he explained.

Moreover, “certification issues” appeared on the kits customers had asked for. The hoist, the cargo hook, the dual evaporator for the air conditioning system and WAAS capability (augmented GPS) were among those kits that were not easily certifiable. They are now certified, Roberts noted.

The 429 is approved for single-pilot IFR operations under Part 27 airworthiness rules by Canadian, U.S. and European authorities. The 429’s maintenance program is so far the only one in the helicopter industry that is based on Maintenance Steering Group 3 (MSG-3) standards. For example, in case some unscheduled maintenance is required, the technician may also perform some scheduled tasks and take credit for them, thus alleviating the next check. Roberts claimed the Bell 429 is “the most advanced light twin” on the market today.

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