Bell Helicopter, a Textron company, prefers a light lift and a heavy payload. It is a leading manufacturer of commercial helicopters, manned and unmanned vertical lift aircraft, and military tiltrotor aircraft, which lift like a helicopter but fly like an airplane with twice the speed and triple the payload as a traditional helicopter. Different models are suited for transporting troops, emergency medical provisioning, search and rescue, and warfighting. With partner Boeing, Bell produces the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft for the US Department of Defense. Bell also provides training and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services. It maintains operations in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Through a 50/50 strategic alliance, Bell Helicopter and Boeing are the prime contractors and suppliers of the V-22 Osprey program. Together, they are developing, testing, manufacturing, and and fielding V-22 multi-role tiltrotor aircraft to meet the amphibious and vertical assault needs of the US Marine Corps, the strike rescue needs of the US Navy, and the special operations needs of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). More than 100 Osprey tiltrotors are currently in operation, with Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys deployed in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22s preparing to deploy in support of special operations missions.
A joint venture with US-based Agusta Aerospace called Bell/Agusta Aerospace Company focuses on producing the world's first civilian tiltrotor, the BA609. It combines the speed and altitude of a turboprop with the vertical takeoff and landing capabilities of a helicopter. It also functions in extreme climates, including Arctic and desert environments. In 2011 Agusta Aerospace's UK parent AgustaWestland agreed to purchase Bell's ownership interest in the joint venture. However, Bell will remain the key supplier of engineering services and components for the program, which began in 1998.
Through its commercial business, Bell is a supplier of helicopters for offshore oil and gas, utility, charter, corporate, police, fire, rescue, and emergency medical uses. Its commercial line ranges from light single- and twin-engine helicopters to medium twin-engine helicopters. They include the 206L-4, 407, 412EP, 429, and Huey II. For both its military and commercial products, Bell provides post-sale support and service through a network of Bell-owned service centers, more than 120 independent service centers, and six supply centers located worldwide.
As a result of the global economic crisis, Bell's parent Textron undertook a restructuring plan, and in the fourth quarter of 2010 it initiated a final round of restructuring actions, which included further layoffs at Bell and other segments, totaling a companywide workforce reduction of about 28%. Cutting costs appears to be paying off, however, as Bell experienced a $230 million increase in revenues and a $123 million increase in profits in fiscal 2010 compared to 2009. Bell overtook Cessna as Textron's top segment in 2010, generating about one-third of its parent's total revenues.
Given the recession at home and ongoing military activity abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's not surprising that Bell's military sales outpace its commercial sales. However, certain sectors within the commercial market are expected to pick up again. The oil and gas industry, for instance, is showing increased demand for commercial helicopters or other specialty aircraft as exploration and development companies venture to more remote locations. The increase in natural and manmade disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires may also boost demand for aircraft capable of transporting emergency medical supplies and personnel. Demand for replacement aircraft, spare parts, and aircraft MRO services is being driven by aging fleets around the globe. It's estimated that approximately 40% of helicopter fleets are more than 25 years old. – less