I met up with Jakub Hoda at Helitech, the Managing Director for Bell in Europe and Asia. Jakub is the one in the middle in the photograph at the Bell stand, accompanied by his Customer Support colleagues from the USA (Ray Lamas and Michael Reagan). The immediate thing that strikes you during the meeting is that these guys are very serious about long term expansion in Europe. So, have they got the aircraft and strategy to deliver that expansion?
Jakub is based out of Prague and is responsible for Europe including Russia (and even UK post Brexit). Prague is Bell’s main delivery centre in Europe, and they are developing a further spares hub in Amsterdam, which is a great location for getting spares quickly to most destinations in Europe. Their Customer Advantage Plan applies across the fleet providing comprehensive PBH cover and they aim for same day turn round of spare parts for the most common parts and a maximum of three days for others. They are investing in a training facility in Valencia, Spain that will have a Bell 429 simulator by January 2017 and could take more types.
Their new Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, a five seater with low running costs and a glass cockpit has 400 letters of intent and is due certification by the FAA late 2016 and by EASA 2017. I tried to get more definite dates from Jakub and failed abysmally. The 505 is aimed at the small passenger transport market, VIP and training markets.
The Bell 525 is of course delayed as a result of the tragic crash in July 2016 when it broke up mid flight. The NTSB investigation is ongoing and Jakub could not comment on a likely date for the report or the likely cause of the accident. The resumption of flight testing will obviously be delayed for some time and the planned certification in 2017 is unlikely. Jakub stated that the 525 is intended to compete with the H225 and the S92 as well as the AW189 and H175 with a range of 530nm and RoA of 170nm with 16 passengers and 245nm with 11 passengers. Given the current surplus of helicopters in the offshore market introducing any offshore helicopter in 2017 would be very brave, so a 2108/19 introduction would be an advisable and more strategic target. Chris Seymour at Flight Ascend Consultancy is also at Helitech and he thought the Bell 525 could be a significant player in the market with this timing as it is slightly larger than its competitors in the super-medium category and he sees demand for this type of helicopter developing within this time frame. Low DMCs, full maintenance protection with an excellent spares hub and fast AOG turn round times and full training facilities close by sounds like a package that any operator would look at with great interest.
So do they have the aircraft to achieve their desired expansion in Europe? Their strategy targets two completely different markets and ones that do have growth in them within the time frames when they will appear on the market. Not being dependent on one helicopter sector is an important strategy for Bell. If Bell can deliver on their service and low cost to match their brochure commitments then they will expand in Europe, with Russia a possible key target for them to look at. A comprehensive training package would also be attractive. They certainly have the senior management determination to achieve their goal.
Allan Blake is an independent Aviation Consultant & Journalist. He was Regional Director (Asia Pacific) with the Bristow Group for seven years and is the author of “Dynamic Directors: Aligning Board Structure for Business Success” (Macmillan).
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