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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: Bell Shuffles Top Management in Texas, Canada, Europe

PRODUCTS

The management turnover continues at Bell Helicopter where Mike Blake, executive vice president of customer solutions, left the company suddenly Sept. 5.

No reason was given for the departure of Blake, who was widely seen as the top assistant to Chief Executive Officer Dick Millman.

Officials insisted that key programs Blake was overseeing, namely development and testing of the Model 429 light twin, remained on track.

Blake’s duties, which included oversight of the civil helicopter business and product support, were split among several other executives.

Due to privacy restrictions, "we can’t get into specific details about personnel actions," said Joseph LaMarca Jr., Bell’s senior vice president of communications. "As a part of other planned strategic moves within Bell, it was decided to eliminate his position and realign those segments of Bell that he managed."

Blake was a longtime Sikorsky Aircraft executive and headed the U.S. Army’s RAH-66 Comanche program before joining Bell in August 2004 as senior vice president of the commercial helicopter business of the Forth Worth, Texas-based manufacturer under then-CEO Mike Redenbaugh.

Blake oversaw development of the 429 and other efforts to upgrade Bell’s commercial helicopter product line. He was also involved in managing the Army’s ARH-70 Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program and oversaw the company’s highly regarded customer support and service operations.

Officials at Textron Inc., parent company of Bell, portrayed Blake’s departure as being solely for personal reasons, according to financial analysts.

Bell has struggled to meet schedule commitments on the 429, the company’s first all-new commercial helicopter in more than a decade. LaMarca said the company still expects to win FAA certification of the 429 and begin deliveries early next year, about one-and-a-half year behind the original schedule.

Blake is the third high-level Bell senior executive to leave in recent months. John Bean, executive vice president over manufacturing operations, and Shane Eddy, senior vice president of customer support, left in April.

As a result of Blake’s departure, Bob Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of marketing and sales, will now also oversee commercial helicopter programs on an interim basis. Barry Kohler, vice president of commercial programs, will report to Fitzpatrick.

Other changes announced include the assignment of Jacques Laurent as president of Bell’s European operations. Laurent had been president of Bell Helicopter Canada in Mirabel, Quebec. Laurent is succeeded by Eric Cardinali of Textron’s E-Z-Go golf-cart manufacturing subsidiary. — Bob Cox

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