THE QUESTION ON MANY MINDS IS what will Bell Helicopter do this year?
For the last several years, Heli-Expo has marked turning points for Bell, with most proving less than favorable. In 2004, for instance, it launched the IFR version of the Model 427, only to cancel that a year later in favor of the 429. In 2006, it unveiled the Model 417, which lasted until Heli-Expo 2007, when both it and Bell chief Mike "Red" Redenbaugh were terminated.
The introduction of each new model was spectacular. But the short life of the 427IFR and 417 fostered questions about what Bell’s market strategy is (and even if it had one). Those questions loomed large given Bell’s fading position in the civil market vis-a-vis Eurocopter, whose market strategy clearly was working.
Redenbaugh’s successor, Richard Millman, debuted at Heli-Expo in Orlando last year with about a month on the job and little direct rotorcraft experience, but a reputation for fixing broken business units for parent company Textron. His arrival coincided with top Bell managers’ professed adoption of new, disciplined decision-making protocols (which, among other things, led to the 417’s cancellation).
Together, those changes bring Bell to Houston (at Booth 4629) with a new game plan that includes a streamlined product line and plans to develop those products into families of helicopters.
The matter of where Bell is headed takes on urgency considering the high level of demand for civil helicopters today and the struggle of nearly every manufacturer to meet it. That urgency is magnified by projections of Bell and others that demand has reached a new plateau and will stay high for years to come. The pressure is on to meet that demand now and in the future with a product line that offers operators mission flexibility and lower operating costs.
Various projections put annual civil helicopter deliveries at roughly 400 turbine aircraft a year for an extended period. Bell is looking for its new game plan to garner 40 percent of that market by 2012-13 and "begin to regain market share," said Bob Fitzpatrick, Bell’s senior vice president for marketing and sales.
That demand was reflected in Bell’s commercial aircraft deliveries. "In 2007, our deliveries increased 14 percent over 2006, which, in turn, was a 29 percent increase from 2005," Fitzpatrick said. It delivered 181 new helicopters last year in "every market segment and region of the world," as well as 14 Huey 2 kits.
Bell’s new leader, Millman, had to hit the ground running at last year’s Heli-Expo. "I didn’t know an awful lot at that time, my friend," he said.
He did know that he wanted unify what he called "islands of excellence" at Bell into a continent and make the helicopter maker into a learning organization like other Textron units. Textron had launched a learning "transformation" in 2001 that had helped boost the profit margin at units such as Cessna and Textron Systems, which Millman previously led. "Bell was not as deeply engaged in that learning process as Bell could have been, in my opinion," he told Rotor & Wing.
In the last year, he said, the company has made "a huge amount of progress," achieved by "as strong a leadership team as I’ve ever worked with… The team has been strongly aligned on what we need to do."
That included focusing Bell’s production, sales, and support efforts on its most viable commercial products. As a result, Bell in January said it would halt four production lines over the next two years, those of the 206B3, 427, 430, and 210 models. Millman stressed that Bell would continue to support each of those models after their production.
Ending those lines is aimed at helping Bell simultaneously increase production capacity for the models for which it is seeing strong demand — the 407, 412, and new 429 models — as well as the 206L series. "Our most recent analysis of the marketplace has indicated an increased demand for our 407 and 412 commercial helicopters" as well as the 429, Millman said in announcing the move. "We are fully booked on these models until 2010." Bell’s shift in production capacity and priorities "will enable it to deliver a larger number of commercial helicopters each year."
Bell is taking a new approach to developing the products it will deliver, according to Fitzpatrick. Starting with the 429, it plans to develop families of aircraft based on a single model’s type certificate. With the 429, for instance, the manufacturer is assessing customer interest in a higher-gross-weight version as well as a single-engine version.
The idea, Fitizpatrick said, is to increase the mission flexibility and shrink the training and logistics train a customer takes on by buying Bell products.
He said Bell is seeing great interest from offshore-support and larger emergency medical service operators in lowering direct operating costs, which the "family-of-aircraft" approach is aimed at achieving. As an example of the approach and the benefits, he points to the commercial airline industry, in which operators over the last 10 years have simplify their fleets. In some cases, an airline focused on a single certificated type with several derivatives offering differing range/payload combinations with essentially single sets of spares and training requirements.
Bell also is shifting its marketing focus toward non-U.S. markets. Company executives say the ratio of international to U.S. sales runs about 2:1 and Bell must address that. Therefore, Bell plans to open a final assembly, completions, and sales center in Germany by the end of this year to serve markets there and in France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Eastern Europe.
Plans call for starting with final assembly and completions of 407s and 429s there. The aircraft would be manufactured at Bell’s plant in Mirabel, outside Montreal, then disassembled and shipped to Germany for final assembly and completion.
"We’re beginning to penetrate the European market with the 429," Fitzpatrick said. "One of the largest EMS operators has placed a 10-ship order in the U.K." Bell has taken more than 270 orders for the 429, with certification set for October.
With that facility up and running, Bell would set up a final assembly, completions, and sales center in Singapore to serve Asian markets.
Tech-Tool Gets EC145 Window STCs
Tech-Tool Plastics, at Booth 3614, has won FAA STC approval of both standard and special-application windows for the Eurocopter EC145. The windows are available in standard clear and light smoke-gray tints for all windows and dark smoke-gray tint for overheads. Tech-Tool (www.tech-tool.com) also offers a very dark, custom gray tint for overheads and aft windows to provide passenger privacy. Windows with slides offer a larger opening for aerial photography and surveillance. Tech-Tool specializes in designing and manufacturing replacement windows for Bell, Eurocopter, MD, Robinson, Schweizer, and Sikorsky aircraft.
Vector Consolidates, Re-Brands R&O Units
Vector Aerospace (www.vectoraerospace.ca) is consolidating and re-branding its repair and overhaul companies. The units — AcroHeliPro, Atlantic Turbines International, and Sigma Aerospace — will operate under the single Vector Aerospace brand. To mark the occasion, Vector is displaying a Los Angeles Police Dept. Bell Helicopter 206 with a Sagem glass cockpit at Booth 2843, as well as a Sagem interactive glass-cockpit simulator and a new Chelton Flight Systems glass cockpit. Vector’s announcement comes on the heels of its agreement to purchase the U.K. Defence Aviation and Repair Agency’s rotary-wing and components businesses. That includes the military helicopter repair facilities at Fleetlands near Portsmouth, England and the helicopter component and repair facilities at Almondbank, near Perth in Scotland. The transaction is expected to be completed during the first quarter.
Microwave Radio Introduces Receiver
Microwave Radio Communications (Booth 1313) plans to introduce its top-of-the-line DRS2000-HS digital downlink receivers today. Designed with public safety and homeland security in mind, the DRS2000-HS offers BISS, BISS-E, and AES 128-bit decryption support, with support for 6, 7, and 8 MHz COFDM pedestals. Microwave Radio’s TRC Diversity system supports AER 32-bit decryption. The models are available in portable, wheeled, high-impact cases for use in harsh environments. The products are part of a line of digital downlink receivers Microwave Radio (www.mrcbroadcast.com) has developed for presenting real-time images that it says are free of the interference, fade, and signal loss common to urban environments.
Get a Lift With East/West
East/West Industries (www.eastwestindustries.com) at Booth 2030 is highlighting two new product lines. One is its lightweight, FAA-certified, Crashworthy Helicopter Seat product line for crew, passengers, and troops. The other is the Master Crane, a compact, portable, towable crane that can be used for shop and field servicing of aircraft.
FEC: LED There Be Light on Pads
FEC Heliports (www.fecheliports.com) is introducing its new line of LED lighting products at Booth 3750. FEC designs, manufactures and installs helipads, which are available in concrete or aluminum. The LED line includes perimeter lights, flush lights, obstruction lights, hooded surface floodlights, and wind-cone lights. FEC’s HELISLAT aluminum helipad has been installed on almost 200 rooftops worldwide over the past 10 years.
FLYIT Demos, Scholarships
FLYIT Simulators (www.flyit.com) is providing demonstration rides in its Professional Helicopter Simulators at Static Space 19, between the Eurocopter and Sikorsky Aircraft displays. The company also is introducing a scholarship program that will be included with each FLYIT Professional Helicopter Simulator ordered at Heli-Expo 2008. Five students will each receive 10 free hours of training in the Professional Helicopter Simulator. Time can be applied toward the private pilot’s license or the instrument rating. The student trains free and FLYIT reimburses the flight training school $100 an hour, up to 10 hours for each student.
CMC Features Electronic Flight Bag
CMC (www.cmcelectronics.ca) is featuring its new military/helicopter Class 2 electronic flight bag. Dubbed TacView, it consists of a portable mission display and a companion expansion module for avionics-grade conditioned power and interface expansion. TacView will be hooked up to CMC’s small, uncooled, infrared-based enhanced vision system at Booth 2424. TacView is designed to be compatible with night-vision goggles and is a derivative of the very successful PilotView electronic flight bag. Its high-resolution XGA (1024X768) glass permits excellent map details and high off-angle viewing.
AvMap Features Portable Mappers
At Booth 4913, AvMap is exhibiting four portable aeronautical mapping products: GeoPilot II, GeoPilot II Plus, EKP-IV, and EKP-IV Pro. AvMap/Navigation (www.avmap.us) makes both aeronautical and car GPS mapping software and devices. EKP-IV Pro (below) is the professional version of the Electronic Knee Pad designed to provide special software features and data sets.
Dallas Airmotive Shows Overhaul Wares
BBA Aviation engine repair and overhaul companies Dallas Airmotive (www.dallasairmotive.com), Premier Turbines, and H+S Aviation are exhibiting at Booth 913. Representatives from Dallas Airmotive’s Lafayette, La. component repair and overhaul operation are on hand to discuss the company’s range of overhaul, repair, and exchange services for Rolls-Royce 250 Series 2, 3, and 4 engine components. Dallas Airmotive’s Premier Turbines division is a Rolls authorized maintenance center for the Model 250 and is a member of the Rolls FIRST network. U.K.-based H+S Aviation, also a Rolls-authorized maintenance center, offers extensive Model 250 accessories overhaul, repair, and exchange services, and is authorized by General Electric on the CT7 series of turboshaft engines.
Wescam Turrets In Spotlight
L-3 Wescam’s MX- series turrets are in the spotlight at Booth 2647. According to the company (www.l-3com.com/wescam), these EO/IR imaging turrets provide image stability and long-range detection capability for low-altitude tactical missions and long-range covert surveillance missions. Wescam’s standout is the MX-15 True HD System, which the company says is capable of outputting true HD-1080p, 1080i, 720p, and analog video formats. Utilizing a miniature 1080p HD camera (1920X1080 pixels) for both EO zoom and spotters, Wescam said, its HD technology provides higher resolution and better imaging performance over standalone 720p HD systems.
Conklin & de Decker Offers Courses
Conklin & de Decker (Booth 1930) is offering three more courses during Heli-Expo: the Helicopter Operators and Management Course (Feb. 24); Defining Direct Operating Costs (Feb. 27-28), and Advanced Helicopter Operators and Management Course (Feb. 27-29). It had offered two other courses in the days leading up to the show opening today. For 15 years, Conklin & de Decker (www.conklindd.com) has worked with HAI to provide multiple educational workshops focused on helicopter maintenance, operations, management, tax and insurance topics in concurrence with Heli-Expo. For more information and to register for the courses, go www.heliexpo.com.
Aviall Highlights Model 250 Services
Aviall Services (www.aviall.com), a leading provider of new aviation parts and aftermarket support, is at Booth 1621. This year, Aviall Services is highlighting its services and products for the Rolls-Royce Model 250 engine. According to Rolls-Royce, there are more than 29,000 Model 250s in service worldwide. Aviall Services operates a Rolls-Royce Model 250 parts exchange program, and sells Model 250 inspection kits and epubs. The company is also focusing on its Aviall hose shops and 406 MHz technology upgrades at the show.
Aerocomputers’ Mission Management
AeroComputers (www.aerocomputers) designs, builds, and markets computer systems that manage tactical operations for airborne applications. Its display at Booth 2342 features products that integrate GPS-based moving maps, image collection and transmission, illumination, and data storage into mission management applications. At the heart of AeroComputers’ product line is the UltiChart Mission Management System, a sophisticated computer that puts information and control at the user’s fingertips. Through seamless integration with the aircraft’s onboard camera and other systems, the company says, crewmembers can keep their attention focused on accomplishing the mission, not on the hardware.
Heli-One Trumpets New Facility
Heli-One can be found at Booth 2237. Company officials are here to talk about the opening of Heli-One’s new, purpose-built facility in Vancouver, British Columbia. It opened in January. According to Heli-One (www.heli-one.ca), the new facility features the latest in technology and covers more than 235,000 sq ft. Worldwide, Heli-One’s facilities cover nearly 500,000 sq ft. The company operates facilities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the Netherlands. In November 2007, Heli-One entered into agreements with Sikorsky and AgustaWestland to obtain new capabilities.
Cejay Engineering Shows New Lights
Known for its night-vision applications for aviation and personal security, Cejay Engineering (www.cejayeng.com), has a number of new items on display at Booth 3131. According to the company, these include new IFF beacons and a new lip-light, radio-controlled landing system, which can have the lights flash in synch and cascading as well as constant. This lighting system can be activated remotely from an approaching aircraft using a DTMF coded switch, or directly using selected specific frequencies.
Wysong Introduces New STCs, PMA Products
Wysong Enterprises, Inc. (www.wysongusa.com) will be at Booth 4612 showcasing its broad range of services and capabilities. A full-service helicopter completion and refurbishment center, Wysong will have examples of recently completed work that include corporate, medical, law enforcement, and high-definition electronic news-gathering helicopters. They will also be introducing several new STC’d kits that will be sold through their Parts Manufacturing Authority products line. Wysong says it provides helicopter services with a team of highly qualified professionals who are devoted to ensuring quality and reliability to any project they take on. Services include interior, paint, avionics, and airframe modifications, all performed in a facility specifically designed for maintaining, restoring, retrofitting, and finishing the interior, exterior, or mechanics of virtually any helicopter.
Center Capital Talks Helo Loans
Once again, delegates seeking financing help for new and used helicopters and related equipment should visit Center Capital Corp. (www.centercapitalcorp.com) at Booth 1631. Center Capital specializes in loans to helicopter owners and operators. Moreover, as a subsidiary of the Webster Bank, Center Capital has direct access to billions of dollars in loans. "We’re a direct lender that knows the U.S commercial helicopter market inside-out, and have three regional dedicated helicopter loan experts on staff to process your loan quickly," said Greg Renna, senior vice president and general manager of Center Capital’s General Aviation Div. "We also finance every kind of helicopter, from single-engine pistons to large twin-engine models."
Daniels Manufacturing’s Safe-T-Cable
Daniels Manufacturing Corp (www.DMCTools.com) is featuring Safe-T-Cable, a time-saving alternative to Lockwire, at Booth 2412. Safe-T-Cable is a simplified application method that relies on a precisely calibrated tool for proper installation rather than operator skills. It can cut time and costs from the manufacturing or maintenance process, the company says. Safe-T-Cable may be substituted for safety Lockwire to prevent loosening of threaded parts in accordance with the performance requirements of SAE specifications AS4536, AS3509, AS3510 and AS3511. DMC also supplies tool kits tailored to the wiring systems of individual aircraft models.
Intermoutain LTS101 Cutaway
Intermountain Turbine Services (www.intermountainturbine.com) provides repair and overhaul services for the Honeywell LT101 turbine engine product line. Based in Lindon, Utah, the company has 18 employees in three locations, including a just-opened satellite office in St. Thomas, Ontario. At Booth 2134, ITS is displaying a cutaway of a LTS101, and tis staff are on hand to answer questions.
REBTECH Gets Korean, Texas NVG Contracts
REB Technologies, Inc. (Booth 4035) of Bedford, Texas has been awarded a contract for the modification of eight Bell helicopters, including installation of night-vision goggle (NVG)-compatible illumination. The helicopters, operated by Med Trans Corp. of Lewisville, Texas, include one 206L-1 and seven 407s. REBTECH (www.rebtechnologies.net) is to complete the NVG lighting upgrade for all eight helicopters by March.
New FireMax Water Tank
Kaman (Booth 2447) will announce a new water tank option for its FIREMAX helicopter while promoting its unique ability to provide OEM-quality subcontracting services through its HeliworX innovation and manufacturing support center. A new, FAA-certified, 700-gal fixed-tank system from Isolair provides a second tank option for K-MAX operators who use their helicopters for firefighting. Kawak Aviation Technologies will continue to offer its FAA-certified, 700-gal tank to K-MAX operators. K-MAX and FIREMAX operators were instrumental in battling devastating fires that swept the U.S. last year. As the subcontracting arm of Kaman Aerospace’s Helicopters Div., HeliworX is the only subcontractor with the OEM advantage. Through HeliworX, Kaman (www.kamanaero.com) supports both fixed- and rotary-wing customers with its experienced, skilled workforce. A full complement of composite and metal capabilities includes design/analysis, manufacturing, flight test, and flight solutions for an over-stressed aerospace industry stretching its resources to meet unprecedented demand.
Universal Weather Gets FAA Approval
Universal Weather and Aviation (Booth 4109) has been approved as a Qualified Internet Communication Provider (QICP) by the FAA. "This FAA approval provides Universal clients with the assurance that Universal meets or exceeds the FAA standards for reliability, accessibility and security when disseminating weather and NOTAM data via the Internet," said Jim Reed, Universal (www.univ-wea.com) Director of Meteorology and Flight Planning. Reed said Part 121 and Part 135 operators may now list Universal as their approved QICP for online weather information. "Not many companies have been approved as a QICP," said Reed. "We documented to the FAA that we are reliable by meeting its standard of no more than 30 minutes of total outages in a three-month period. We also met the FAA’s ccessibility standard, as we are capable of initiating transmission of the data requested with 100 percent of its users within two minutes. Finally, we documented our Internet security capability, ensuring the data is not accessed or modified by unauthorized parties."
Aerolite Wins AW139 Orders
Aerolite (Booth 3401) has received orders for medical interiors for three AgustaWestland AW139s and 11 Beechcraft King Air B200. "This award was preceded by a competitive bid process and validates our substantial investment in lightweight technologies, manufacturing processes and new designs during the past few years. It is gratifying to see a reputable company such as Lufttransport select our EMS interiors," said Max Bucher, president and ounder of Aerolite. Both airframes will get dedicated and turnkey medical interiors, single and dual patient capabilities, integrated patient loading systems, cabinetry and medical system and equipment integrations. Work will be performed at Aerolite’s facility in Switzerland with the installation of the helicopter interiors at the Agusta facility in Italy. Deliveries are to be in 2008 and 2009.
Rotorcraft Support Named R44 Center
Rotorcraft Support, Inc. (Booth 2937) of Van Nuys, Calif. has been appointed and authorized as an R44 service center by Robinson Helicopter Co. Rotorcraft Support (www.rotorcraftsupport.com) provides service and products to the operators of AgustaWestland A109s; Bell Helicopter 47s, 205s, 206s, 212s, 222s, 407s, 412s, 430s, OH-58s and UH-1Hs; Eurocopter AS350s, AS355s, EC120s and EC130s; Robinson R22s; Schweizer Aircraft 300Cs, and Sikorsky Aircraft S-76s. The R44 service center approval is an important addition to the many manufacturer endorsements Rotorcraft Support already holds. The company has been a R22 service center since 1990.
Lightspeed Offers Luxury Headset
Lightspeed Aviation (Booth 308) is offering the Zulu Helo, a series of premium-priced, luxury headsets designed specifically for the rotor market. Zulu Helo is designed to offer superior noise reduction through an innovative non-clamp design to prevent headset fatigue.