By Thierry Dubois
Bell Helicopter is planning to deliver the 50th copy of its newest light twin—the Bell 429—by the end of 2011. According to Larry Roberts, senior vice president for Commercial business, the model is “continuing to do very well.” At the Paris Air Show in late June, the company signed at least one firm order.
“We have sold between 40 and 50 Bell 429s,” Roberts said. Delivery plans seem to have been downgraded as, in March, he was expecting to have delivered between 70 and 80 examples of the 429 by the end of 2011. Before certification in July 2009 and before the downturn hit the helicopter industry—particularly the light segment—Bell claimed to have sold over 300 Bell 429s. Deliveries to European customers will start this year, Roberts predicted in June. Globally, about 40 percent of the customers are EMS operators. Roberts would not put a number on the 429’s production rate at the Montreal, Quebec factory. Nevertheless, he reflected on the difficulties that impeded the helicopter’s early production phase. “Some needed changes were discovered along the production processes; it took some time to correct these problems,” he explained.
Moreover, “certification issues” appeared on the kits customers had asked for. The hoist, the cargo hook, the dual evaporator for the air conditioning system and WAAS capability (augmented GPS) were among those kits that were not easily certifiable. They are now certified, Roberts noted.
The 429 is approved for single-pilot IFR operations under Part 27 airworthiness rules by Canadian, U.S. and European authorities. The 429’s maintenance program is so far the only one in the helicopter industry that is based on Maintenance Steering Group 3 (MSG-3) standards. For example, in case some unscheduled maintenance is required, the technician may also perform some scheduled tasks and take credit for them, thus alleviating the next check. Roberts claimed the Bell 429 is “the most advanced light twin” on the market today.
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