LAFAYETTE, La. — Today, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Bell Helicopter President and CEO John Garrison highlighted the completion of the company’s Lafayette Aircraft Assembly Center, where Bell Helicopter plans to begin commercial production of the new Bell 505 Jet Ranger X aircraft in 2016. The new 82,300-square-foot assembly center is located at the Lafayette Regional Airport. Production will follow final certification of the assembly center and aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators.
Garrison, Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Steven Grissom and other state, regional and local officials dedicated the Lafayette Assembly Center in a midday event that included a ribbon-cutting and ceremonial lifting of the delivery center doors. As the first modern-era aircraft assembly facility in Louisiana, the Bell Helicopter site will create 115 new direct jobs, with an average salary of more than $55,000 per year, plus benefits. LED estimates the aerospace project will result in another 136 new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 250 new jobs in Acadiana and surrounding areas.
Gov. Jindal said, “Today’s dedication of the Bell Helicopter Lafayette Assembly Center opens a new era in Louisiana’s rich history in aerospace. From the original home of Delta Airlines, to pre-World War II aircraft assembly operations, to NASA’s space shuttle program and its current mission that will send manned flights to the moon and Mars, Louisiana has played a leading role in flight. Bell Helicopter recognized these historic accomplishments, along with the major energy-related transportation companies in our state that rely on helicopter transit. We’re proud that Louisiana’s rapidly improving business climate, our outstanding workforce and our unmatched quality of life led Bell Helicopter to make Louisiana its state of choice for this aerospace project, which will benefit our people for generations to come.”
Already, Bell Helicopter has received approximately 350 letters of intent from customers wishing to purchase the Bell 505. The five-seat, single-engine, turbine helicopter builds upon Bell Helicopter’s proven technology over a half-century of producing SLS (or short-light-single) helicopters, with more than 7,500 aircraft delivered in the SLS class.
“We are very proud to share in this milestone today with the State of Louisiana, Lafayette Parish and our partners and customers,” Garrison said. “Customers around the globe have been asking for a high-performance, high-value and modern Bell product in the short-light-single market, and now we are one step closer to delivering on that request.”
The State of Louisiana funded construction of the $26.3 million facility that houses Bell Helicopter’s Lafayette Aircraft Assembly Center. The facility is owned by the Lafayette Regional Airport and leased by Bell Helicopter. The company will make an additional capital investment of $11.5 million in equipment and tooling at the 14.5-acre airport site, which is adjacent to U.S. 90.
To secure the project, LED offered the company a competitive incentive package that includes performance-based grants of $4 million for lease support, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment, and $0.2 million to reimburse relocation expenses. Louisiana also is providing the comprehensive solutions of LED FastStart®, the nation’s No. 1 state workforce development program for six consecutive years.
“Bell Helicopter locating in Lafayette couldn’t come at a better time for Lafayette,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel. “With the downturn in oil prices, we know that highly skilled workers will be looking for jobs that Bell will be able to employ. That is why we have worked so hard to diversify our economy, and make Lafayette a great place for business to locate. I thank the Jindal administration for their efforts, and especially thank our partner Gregg Gothreaux and LEDA for helping bring jobs to Lafayette and Acadiana.”
“The decision for Bell Helicopter to locate this cutting-edge facility on Lafayette Regional Airport property brings tremendous benefits to our airport, our community and our state,” said Executive Director Steven Picou of Lafayette Regional Airport. “We look forward to working with Bell executives and plant personnel as this newly formed partnership continues to develop and hopefully grows even more in the future.”
“We are excited to join Bell Helicopter as they open the doors on their state-of-the-art assembly plant,” said President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. “Through this facility, Bell Helicopter will provide quality employment opportunities for the region’s experienced manufacturing workforce. This facility demonstrates the company’s long-standing confidence in Lafayette, Acadiana and Louisiana. LEDA will continue to work with Bell Helicopter and their suppliers today and long into the future.”
Employment at the Lafayette Assembly Center will ramp up from approximately 40 positions in 2015 to 115 jobs by 2018. In addition to creating 115 new direct jobs at the assembly center, Bell Helicopter will retain more than 60 jobs in the Lafayette area at two existing facilities that perform rotor blade and composite repair and overhaul.