With more than 35,000 helicopters delivered to customers around the world since it was founded in 1935, Bell Helicopter continues a legacy of high-quality helicopter performance as a member of the Textron Inc. family of businesses. Bell Helicopter created the SLS category – denoting short distance, light payload, single engine – in the 1960s, during which the Bell 206 JetRanger propelled the company to tremendous success. Though the company continued to produce larger helicopters, customers lobbied for the JetRanger’s return to the SLS market. In December 2013, Bell Helicopter announced the company’s formal selection of the Lafayette Regional Airport for the development of a new manufacturing facility where it would re-enter the SLS market with the assembly of its new helicopter – the Bell 505 JetRanger X. General Manager of Bell Helicopter’s Lafayette Assembly Center Paul Watts tells the company’s innovation story:
[Q] What inspired Bell Helicopter to return to the SLS market?
[A] Bell Helicopter defined the SLS market nearly 50 years ago with the JetRanger. Our customers are again asking for a high performance, high value Bell product in this category. 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.
[Q] Why did Bell Helicopter pick Louisiana to develop its manufacturing facility?
[A] We considered several sites for this new facility, and Louisiana’s proposal demonstrated the state’s commitment to economic development and helping us meet our business objectives. 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. Our experience has shown us that the Lafayette Parish is a great place to do business. Our parent company, Textron, has also had a longstanding, successful relationship with the State of Louisiana.
[Q] What is Bell Helicopter doing that no other company is doing?
[A] Our team has worked closely with customers all over the globe from day one of this program to ensure that this aircraft meets customer needs. They have specifically asked for increased safety and performance at a cost-competitive price point. The Bell 505 is designed to meet the requirements of today’s short, light single operator. It will seat five passengers and can be used for multiple missions including utility, training, private and law enforcement. We collaborated with customers to incorporate their mission needs in a high performance, high value helicopter at a competitive price. The aircraft will fly at a speed of 125 knots, a range of 360 to 420 nautical miles and a useful load of 1,500 pounds. This aircraft offers customers the best combination of value, performance and features, and is able to fly faster, farther and longer than most aircraft in its class.
[Q] When did you realize that the new model would be a success?
[A] We have built this program with customer input from day one, so we have always been confident in its success. The overwhelming response we have received since the aircraft’s unveiling has confirmed that confidence. To date, Bell Helicopter has received more than 230 letters of intent for this aircraft, and customers continue to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the product. In fact, we have actually reevaluated our schedules and created new production plans to meet the capacity demanded by the market.
[Q] What unexpected advantages did Bell benefit from that could only be found in Louisiana?
[A] The entire package offered by Louisiana Economic Development was extremely competitive and made the business case for building the Bell 505 JetRanger X in Lafayette. The involvement of leaders at all levels in the state was a major differentiating factor, and Bell Helicopter has continued to be impressed with the level of support and commitment we receive from officials in Louisiana. We have found Louisiana to be a great place to do business. The local communities are business friendly and the state’s leadership has consistently demonstrated its commitment to helping businesses be successful.