On Dec. 10, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Bell Helicopter CEO John Garrison announced the company will build its new SLS helicopter line at Lafayette Regional Airport, leading to the first modern-era aircraft assembly facility in Louisiana history. The project will create 115 new direct jobs averaging more than $55,000 per year, plus benefits, while Bell will invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling. LED estimates the aerospace project will result in another 136 new, permanent indirect jobs, for a total of more than 250 new jobs in Acadiana. Bell Helicopter selected Louisiana for the new facility after a highly competitive site-selection process in which several states were seriously considered.
Bell Helicopter’s production of the five-seat, single-engine, turbine helicopter will unveil a contemporary version of the aircraft pioneered by the company more than 50 years ago as the JetRanger. The SLS – or Short Light Single – will focus on safety, efficiency and reliability through the use of advanced technology.
Gov. Jindal said, “Bell Helicopter ranks among the most well-known aerospace companies, and we are proud that Louisiana’s world-class workforce, outstanding business climate and incomparable infrastructure combined to attract this exciting project to our state. Louisiana is a state with a long history in helicopter and aerospace production. Companies in our state include three of the largest civilian helicopter operators in the world, along with aerospace production from contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Today’s announcement signals that Louisiana is ready to further expand its presence and leadership in the aerospace industry, creating quality career opportunities for our people for generations to come.”
Bell Helicopter announced plans to re-enter the SLS market at the 2013 Paris Air Show in June. The SLS aircraft will feature a load capacity of 1,500 pounds, a speed of 144 mph, and a cruising range of more than 400 miles. The SLS is designed to support a wide variety of operations and is aimed heavily at the export market. Target customer segments include utility, law enforcement, civilian flight training and other applications.
“Bell Helicopter defined the short light single market nearly 50 years ago with the JetRanger, and our customers are again asking for a high-performance, high-value Bell product in this category,” Garrison said. “We have taken this challenge seriously and are focused on delivering an aircraft that is not only competitively priced, but offers features and capabilities customers have come to expect from Bell Helicopter. We considered several sites for this new facility, and Louisiana’s proposal demonstrated the state’s commitment to economic development. The state’s established aerospace industry and exceptional workforce training programs were also key factors in our decision to make Louisiana a partner in expanding our manufacturing footprint.”
LED began discussions with Bell Helicopter about a potential assembly facility in July, following a May visit with company officials in Fort Worth, Texas. The Lafayette Economic Development Authority, or LEDA, and the Lafayette Airport Commission also played key roles in landing the assembly facility. To secure the project, the State of Louisiana offered a competitive incentive package that includes performance-based grants of $4.0 million for lease support, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment, and $0.2 million to reimburse relocation expenses. Louisiana also will provide the comprehensive solutions of LED FastStart – the nation’s No. 1-ranked state workforce development program.
Bell Helicopter will lease space for its SLS assembly operation in a new 82,300-square-foot, $26.3 million hangar facility at Lafayette Regional Airport that is being funded by the State of Louisiana. The new hangar facility will be owned by Lafayette Regional Airport and built on a 14.5-acre site there that is located adjacent to U.S. Highway 90. Construction will begin in the first half of 2014. Bell will begin hiring employees for the new facility by 2015, and assembly operations will start by 2016 following certification of the facility and the aircraft.
The Bell Helicopter assembly facility represents the latest in a series of aerospace industry project wins for Louisiana. In August, AAR Corp. announced the establishment of a 750-employee Aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility for wide-body aircraft at Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, La. In conjunction with the AAR project, Louisiana is establishing a national Aircraft MRO Center of Excellence that will serve Northrop Grumman and other aviation service providers. Northrop Grumman and its predecessors have performed Aircraft MRO operations for more than two decades at Chennault.
Louisiana’s aerospace industry also includes a long lineage of spacecraft assembly operations at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, ranging from the first stage of NASA’s Saturn V rocket to the Space Shuttle external tanks and current development of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. The Shreveport-Bossier City metro area in north Louisiana is home to the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command and Eighth Air Force, both headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, while the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse, La., near New Orleans, represents a strategic air defense hub.
Lafayette and the Acadiana, Bayou and Southwest regions of Louisiana anchor a helicopter industry that has served the offshore oil-and-gas, aerospace training and emergency services sectors for decades. PHI Inc. (headquartered in Lafayette), ERA Helicopters LLC (headquartered in Lake Charles) and Bristow Group Inc. provide extensive, state-of-the-art helicopter services throughout Louisiana, the Gulf of Mexico and other global regions. In addition, AvEx – Aviation Exteriors Inc. – is a global leader in aviation exterior painting services and is based at the Acadiana Regional Airport in New Iberia, La.
“As the first complete aircraft assembly plant in Louisiana, this project is significant not only for our city but the whole Acadiana area and our entire state,” Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said. “This is an opportunity for an entire industry to take note of what is going on in our state. I am thrilled to see that while we were competing for this company to come to Louisiana – and while we knew that we were competing against states that had done a stellar job in aerospace in the past – that we were seen as being the most competitive location. Winning a world-class project from a company like Bell Helicopter is proof of that.”
“Bell’s commitment to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and guarantee at least 115 full-time positions is a testament to the strength of the Lafayette economy,” said Chairman Matt Cruse of the Lafayette Airport Commission. “This deal is a true collaborative effort, and would not have been possible without the hard work of Governor Bobby Jindal and his administration, LED, and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. Lafayette Regional Airport was selected in a competitive process and won the selection based upon many factors, such as airport compatibility, local economic strength, workforce availability and a strong economic incentive package.”
“LEDA has actively worked with various divisions of Bell since 2005,” LEDA President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux said. “Along with a new Bell facility currently under construction in LEDA Industrial Park, today’s announcement further demonstrates Bell’s confidence in Lafayette, Acadiana and Louisiana. The fact that this will be the first aircraft final assembly plant in Louisiana in many generations emphasizes Bell’s commitment and belief that our community’s workforce will deliver a world-class product in a world-class manner. Bell will be a valuable addition to Acadiana’s thriving specialty and advanced manufacturing sector – an area we are concentrating on as a significant part of LEDA’s targeted industry strategy. Most of all, we appreciate the quality employment opportunities Bell will provide for our region’s experienced manufacturing workforce.”
“This exciting investment by Bell takes the helicopter industry presence in Acadiana to the next level with the addition of a state-of-the-art assembly facility,” said President and CEO Jason El Koubi of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. “It also demonstrates the extraordinary opportunity we have to grow and diversify our regional economy and create jobs by working together. In addition to welcoming Bell to our community, I want to applaud Governor Jindal and LED, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, and the Lafayette Regional Airport for winning this multistate site selection process and securing new jobs and investment for the Lafayette area.”
In addition to creating 115 new jobs at its SLS assembly facility, Bell Helicopter will maintain 63 existing jobs in the Lafayette area associated with two existing facilities involved with helicopter components and service operations.