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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: Bell Books Orders, Fine-Tunes 429 Program

PRODUCTS | AIRFRAMES

Heli-Expo 2008’s first day on Feb. 24 proved a busy one for Bell Helicopters. Not only did it celebrate its 50th anniversary with the Los Angeles County Fire Dept., but it signed orders from Brazil’s TAM Airlines and Rotorcraft Leasing Co. for its new Model 429 and other aircraft.

Combined with orders taken at the Singapore Air Show, which preceded the Helicopter Assn International’s show in Houston by about a week, Bell reported it had received about two dozen new orders for the 429. That brought its total for 429 orders to about 300 valued at about $1.1 billion at current prices, the company said.

Still, the company appears to be working through issues with the new light twin. In a briefing preceding Heli-Expo’s opening, Bell executives said one of the three 429 prototypes will perform additional hot-and-high testing. That follows up on work completed in November 2007. At the show, Bell executives said they expected Canadian certification of the 429 by the fourth quarter of this year; they previously had talked of an October certification. Bell’s executive director for commercial programs, Bill Stromberg, has left the company. He had been overseeing the 429 program.

The program is more than a year behind its original development schedule.

TAM, Brazil’s largest international airline, ordered seven Bell 429s, the manufacturer said, as well as six 206L4s, four 407s, and a 206B3 The aircraft will help TAM meet growing demand from Sao Paulo’s executive region, where the head offices of many major national and international companies are located.

Rotorcraft Leasing plans to add two 429s to its fleet. Bells make up about 97 percent of the Broussard, La.-based company’s 90-helicopter fleet.

In addition, Air Methods ordered six more Model 407s. Air Methods has Bell 429s on order. — Evan Sweetman

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