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The last year represented a continuation of the civil helicopter market’s slow recovery from its 2015 nadir, according to Bell, with the manufacturer recording notable landmarks as the industry continued its slow growth.
“We are starting to see some positive trends in the market,” Susan Griffin, executive vice president of commercial business at Bell, told reporters during a media event at the manufacturer’s headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. “Every quarter we had more deliveries in 2018 versus 2017.”
The year began with Bell renaming and rebranding itself, dropping the “Helicopter” that had been part of its name for almost 60 years, to reflect a broadening of the company’s work into tiltrotors, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, and new propulsion systems.
But, while the manufacturer continued this work into the development of new vertical-lift technology throughout the year, it also recorded some notable milestones in its more traditional product lines.
Bell introduced the latest version of the 407 — the 407GXi, delivered the 100th Bell 505 Jet Ranger X (the global fleet has already reached 10,000 flight hours), reached 330,000 flight hours across its 429 fleet, and announced the 412 EPX. The latter type’s development is being led by Subaru, with Bell in support, and its first flight test is expected within the next couple of weeks.
Flight testing continued on the 525 Relentless, with the program now having recorded almost 900 flight hours and completing hot-and-high tests in the summer.
But of all Bell’s commercial helicopter products, Griffin highlighted the performance of the 505, in particular. “We believe we’re getting a significant piece of the [short light single] market,” she said, with the manufacturer delivering 91 of the type in 2018 — including the first law enforcement aircraft.
In terms of product support, the company made changes to its parts distribution policy following the results of the 2018 Vertical Magazine OEM survey, and Griffin said the company will “continue to look to see if there’s additional policy changes that we’ll be making as we go forward, to see if we can better align our services and support to meet customer needs.”
Customers can expect to see “several” new aftermarket initiatives, including some technology advancements, over the next few months, she added.
Bell expects more of the same gradual market recovery in 2019. “I don’t expect a significant change,” said Griffin. “I think we’ll just continue to see the market come back slowly.”