A 500-pound weight increase for the Bell 429 is big news for Bell and the helicopter industry.
A 500-pound maximum gross weight increase will dramatically improve the Bell 429’s IFR capabilities, which Bell expects to be of particular interest to EMS and corporate customers. However, customers in all sectors will welcome the increased useful load. Skip Robinson Photo
Bell Helicopter has announced approval from Transport Canada for a 500-pound maximum gross weight increase to the Bell 429 a key development for Bell and its customers that carries far-reaching implications for the helicopter industry at large.
The new approval increases the maximum gross weight of the 429 from 7,000 pounds to 7,500. That puts it 500 pounds in excess of the weight limit for normal (as opposed to transport) category rotorcraft, and Bell will now have to petition the Federal Aviation Administration for an exemption to the Federal Aviation Regulations Part 27 weight requirement.
Based on the groundwork laid by Transport Canada, however, Bell expects FAA approval in the near future, with approval by the European Aviation Safety Agency to follow. The weight increase dramatically improves the 429s instrument flight rules capabilities in particular, opening the door to IFR operations by more helicopter operators, more of the time.
I think it bodes well for the entire helicopter industry, said Vertical contributor and former Bell test pilot Shawn Coyle. For many more people, IFR capability is now within reach.
According to Larry Roberts, senior vice president for Bell Helicopters Commercial Business, the 500-pound weight increase was driven by customer requirements. Roberts told Vertical, At the end of the day, customers were adamant that they loved the aircraft, but they wanted more useful load. Among other things, customers wanted to take better advantage of what Roberts called the best WAAS [Wide Area Augmentation System] capability in the business, which allows the 429 to make point-in-space, precision-like GPS approaches to areas that were previously off-limits to IFR ops.
Because of IFR fuel reserve requirements, the limited range of the 429 when restricted to 7,000 pounds has severely constrained its usefulness in the IFR environment. With the higher maximum gross weight, however, the 429 can carry enough fuel to undertake IFR flights that it couldnt in the past. Having the capability to make those very tight WAAS approaches with the extra range is a beautiful combination, said Roberts.
Roberts said he expects the 429s newly enhanced IFR capabilities to be of particular interest to the emergency medical services and corporate sectors, which are also target markets for the wheeled version of the 429 now in development (Bell hopes to certify a version of the 429 with wheels by mid-2013). With the empty weight of an EMS-equipped 429 averaging around 5,100 pounds, EMS operators will now enjoy a useful load of around 2,400 pounds enough to throw an extra person or additional medical equipment in the back while still improving the helicopters range. However, customers in all sectors are likely to welcome the extra 500-pound weight capacity, including law enforcement customers, who can translate it into increased loiter times.
Roberts said that Bell has been working with Transport Canada for several months to secure the approval. Outside of the previous certification limit at 7,000 pounds, all the test data indicated that the Bell 429 would suffer no technical constraints by increasing the gross weight to 7,500 pounds, said Roberts. He suggested that the 7,000-pound weight limit in Part 27 is arbitrary, a characterization that Coyle agreed with. According to Coyle, superior modern engines and aircraft components have greatly increased the inherent performance capabilities of new normal category rotorcraft including the 429, which received its original certifications in 2009.
However, Roberts told Vertical that evaluating the 429 at a weight typically associated with Part 29 [transport category] helicopters did involve [taking] a look at where the 429 stood compared with other Part 29 helicopters. Because the modern, WAAS-equipped Bell 429 is already certified for single or dual pilot IFR, Category A/JAR-OPS Performance Class 1 at maximum gross weight, it compared favorably. We were pleased to discover that the 429 was more compliant with Part 29 than many existing Part 29 aircraft, Roberts said.
The increased maximum gross weight will not impact any service life limits and will reduce the 429s never-exceed speed by only a few knots. However, it requires the installation of a retrofittable kit including a helicopter terrain awareness warning system (HTAWS), a radar altimeter, a cockpit voice/flight data recorder and strobe lights. Roberts said the kit costs about $115,000 and is available on a limited basis starting immediately. Operators can contact Bell Helicopters worldwide customer support network for more details.
Roberts emphasized Bells gratitude to its customers for having the faith and the trust to wait with us for the long-anticipated weight increase. We are deeply appreciative to our customers and the market, he said, adding that Bell hopes to receive FAA approval for the increased gross weight within the next few months. We have deep respect and a very good relationship with both the FAA and EASA. We believe they will support Transport Canadas decision; after all, the exemption would allow for product improvements that increase operational capability for owners and operators making it a win-win for everyone.