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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: Bell Cuts Four Lines, Focuses on "Families"

PRODUCTS | AIRFRAMES

Bell Helicopter is betting a drive by major operators to cut their aircraft operating costs will translate into a greater industry appetite for common sets of helicopters.

The manufacturer is embarking on a new product development plan that calls for creating families of aircraft around single aircraft types, said Bob Fitzpatrick, Bell’s senior vice president for marketing and sales. A model for that effort is the success commercial airline manufacturers Boeing and Airbus have had building families of aircraft off single type certificates. Boeing, for instance, is selling eight different models based on its 737 type certificate, with each covering a different range/payload combination.

While every operator wants aircraft suppliers to provide products with lower directing operating costs, major operators directly influence a manufacturer’s product decisions through the leverage of the quantity of aircraft they acquire. Bell executives said they are seeing interest from major offshore and emergency medical service operators in aircraft that could cover a range of payloads and ranges with essentially single sets of requirements for logistics and training. If such aircraft are fielded, Bell executives believe, interest in them would increase among smaller operators.

As a result, the manufacturer is streamlining its product line, with plans to halt production after 2010 of the Model 206B3, 427, 430, and 210, and focusing on the 407, 412, and 429. (Bell also will still produce 206Ls). "Family" development will start with the new Model 429, slated for certification this year. Bell is looking at a higher gross-weight and a single-engine version of that light twin. Next in line would be the 407. The 412 may be replaced by the new medium twin Bell is studying. It expects to wrap-up that study this year.

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