FAA rules block heavier Bell 429

FAA rules block heavier Bell 429 20 Aug, 12, Source: Helihub.com

It is unlikely to have slipped the attention of most industry observers that Bell is seeking to get the gross weight of the Bell 429 increased from 7,000 to 7,500 pounds.  In fact they have been quite vociferous about it, issuing a new press release seemingly every time another country agrees, often without even a sniff of a sale of a 429 there yet.

In January 2012, Transport Canada was the first to approve the increase – but they you would certainly expect them to with the 429 being built at Bell’s Mirabel plant in Quebec.  The other countries are Argentina, Thailand, Ecuador, Malaysia, India, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

You will notice the distinct gap of the USA from this list.  Indeed in the last week, the FAA have issued a nine page statement to say that they will not be certifying the 429 to 7,500lb, so you can imagine Bell are likely to be putting their heads together to see what comes next.

What they are up against is the FAR27 certification limit of 7,000 lb, and the Bell 429 does not, apparently, meet the rules for the heavier category above that figure under FAR29.   So, Bell were petitioning the FAA to allow a 7,500lb weight under the FAR27 rules.  Bell’s persuasive tactics included some very optimistic sales figures – citing the increase in gross weight approval by the FAA would increase 429 sales from 150 to 500 units, which given the lack of sales success in recent years/decades of their smaller twin-engined helicopters – Bell 222, 230, 427 and 430 included – raised some eyebrows.

What’s next?   Speculation surrounds Bell lobbying for an increase in the FAR27 limit from 7,000 to 7,500 pounds – but that would be an industry-changing move and unlikely to be supported by its competitors, we suspect.

The ultimate problem?  We’ve put our heads together here at Helihub.com and suspect that in reality, Bell should have been aware of the FAR27 limit from the time they started development of the 429 – and if they thought it was EVER going to be certified to FAR29, then they should have taken that route from the start.  So, perhaps it’s bad planning by Bell, or even corporate arrogance assuming they would win their petitioning to the FAA?  We await developments, and no doubt a string of further press releases identifying other countries agreeing to the extra 500 pounds.

The exact same situation exists with the EASA rules with JAR27 (same weight range as FAA’s FAR27) and JAR29 (FAA FAR29). We are not aware of EASA issuing a statement on this specific helicopter type.

Jeremy Parkin – Helihub.com

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