Bell ‘virtually sold out’ across commercial product line this year
BY OLIVER JOHNSON | Verticle Magazine
New Bell CEO Lisa Atherton said the company is seeing the strongest levels of demand in the civil helicopter market for 15 years, with the manufacturer “virtually sold out” through the rest of this year in almost all models.
Speaking to aviation reporters at the Paris Air Show, she added that continuing restrictions in the global supply chain “have impacted some of our delivery ability,” but that the company is seeing some relief.
“I can’t point to any one particular area, but it has been just kind of the post-2020 battle you see everybody going through,” she said.
While the emphasis of Bell’s presence at the Paris Air Show was clearly on its landmark win of the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program with the V-280 Valor tiltrotor (a full-scale mockup of the aircraft spanned much of the OEM’s pavilion at the show), Atherton said the company will continue to aim for a “balanced approach” with regards to the military and commercial markets.
“We absolutely have to continue to be a balanced company,” she said. “We need [the commercial] part of our business to maintain strength throughout the rest of this decade because the military side of the business is moving more towards an engineering focus. . . . We want to keep the manufacturing side of our business strong, and that’ll be mostly through our commercial products.”
Michael Thacker, executive vice president of commercial business, said civil demand continues to be strong “across pretty much all segments and regions.”
In addition to having the V-280 mockup in Paris, the company had a Bell 505 and Bell 429 (in a law enforcement configuration) on static display outside its pavilion. Thacker highlighted the 505’s capability as a training aircraft, and described the 429 as “a proven public safety platform,” with notable customers including the New York City Police Department, the Swedish National Police, and the New South Wales police in Australia.
Regarding the long-awaited super medium 525 Relentless, Thacker said the company is continuing “to make progress with the FAA” in the flight test program for type certification of the fly-by-wire aircraft. “[We] intend to have Bell’s portion of those things done by the end of the year,” he said. “Obviously, we can’t commit for the FAA when they will complete their portion of it.”
Atherton said the 525’s entry into service will be a “clear focus” for the company’s commercial business for part of the next decade.
“For the rest of our product lines, we continue to put in a refresh where necessary,” she said, adding that the potential to tap into the military market with militarized versions of Bell’s civil fleet offers room for expansion.
“We are seeing a bit of demand on a militarization of our commercial platforms,” she said. “We see a lot of international customers that maybe want a slightly lower price point but still need to have that security type of support to their fleets.”
She said the manufacturer is working with “various countries” in order to supply them with defense enhancements.
The sustainability of aerospace was one of the key themes of the Paris Air Show, and Thacker said Bell’s approach would be to leverage already existing solutions while supporting the development of new ones. In concrete terms, encouraging and enabling the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is the bedrock of the company’s near-term approach.
“Our reason for that is [SAF] is the nearest to the shore in terms of being able to make a substantial impact on the sustainability of aviation — so we’re pushing that hard,” said Thacker.
Earlier this year, the Bell 505 completed the first flight of a single-engine helicopter powered entirely by SAF — a landmark achieved in collaboration with Safran Helicopter Engines, Neste, GKN Aerospace and Virent Inc.
Regarding the looming presence of the V280 — and the potential for a commercial variant to one day enter operation, Atherton said: “It certainly has applications — I believe in the 2030s timeframe — where you can see this flying around. And from the civil perspective, we’ll have to work to see what the price point looks like and what kind of customer base is out there.”
She said she would be cheering on Leonardo’s civil tiltrotor — the AW609 — “with all my might.” She pointed to the size difference between the two tiltrotors (the AW609 is a smaller aircraft), and said they would be complementary to each other.
“I love that [Leonardo is] plowing the ground for us with the FAA. . . . As they get through that, we understand what the certification requirements are.”