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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Rotorcraft Report: Bell Scraps Year-Old 417, Finding No Market

HELI-EXPO 2007

Saying they couldn’t deliver the aircraft at a price customers wanted, Bell Helicopter officials canceled its long-awaited Model 407 follow-on just a year after the company launched it.

The 417 "was not going to be a big differentiator in the marketplace," said Bob Fitzpatrick, Bell’s senior vice president of business development, at the annual trade show. "The customer value proposition was not there."

Bell had launched the 417 at Heli-Expo 2006 in a spectacular ceremony that included pounding drums and Cirque du Soleil acrobats, which then-Bell CEO Mike "Red" Redenbaugh said symbolized the "strength, power and agility" of the industry and the new aircraft. Now Redenbaugh, replaced Jan. 18 as CEO, and the 417 are gone. The aircraft would have been the civil version of the U.S. Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, whose development problems contributed to Redenbaugh’s departure.

Fitzpatrick said Bell had 136 orders for the cancelled helicopter; it announced 117 at the program’s launch last year. He said Bell representatives since December have been discussing the cancellation with those who had ordered it. Officials said they made the decision to cancel the program in December after a review that began in August. In addition to the impact on customers, the cancellation is a blow to Honeywell, whose HTS900 would have powered it, and Chelton, which was to develop its avionics suite.

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