Bell making progress with innovation and persistence
By Matt Nicholls
Bell Helicopter president and CEO Mitch Snyder is honoured to be leading a company that is changing the way the world flies – and he’s looking forward to a strong tomorrow based on innovation, R&D, and a commitment to safety no matter what economic challenges stand in the way.
By Matt Nicholls
Snyder made the comments Feb. 29 during media day at HELI EXPO 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. “Innovation is something I am passionate about and this is definitely a place I want to take this company,” he said. “Yes, it’s a tough economy, a tough market, especially on the commercial side. Orders were down 50 per cent in the last couple of years, we know where the energy market is and the strength of the U.S. dollar. But having said that, Bell has had a great year. We did well in 2015 despite market conditions. We launched the 407GXP, we’ve had progress with the 412 EPI (including the seven for the Canadian Coast Guard) . . . it was a good year for Bell.”
The numbers certainly support Snyder’s remarks, as Bell delivered 175 aircraft, including 28 commercial helicopters to countries in the Pacific Rim; 69 civil aircraft in North America; 31 deliveries in Latin America, and 47 helicopters across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. There has been some shift on the commercial side of the market, as the company is now focusing more on the VIP/corporate, SAR and parapublic markets instead of oil and gas. But when that market returns, Snyder noted, the company will be well positioned with its 525 Relentless. The 505 Jet Ranger is also attracting a strong customer base.
The Bell 525 achieved first flight in July 2015 and has accumulated nearly 80 letters of intent. The Bell 505 continued its flight test program and now has letters of intent for more than 350 aircraft. The Bell V-280 Valor program hit a major milestone last year with the delivery of the first fuselage to the Bell Helicopter facility in Amarillo, Tex. And the V-280 is currently undergoing systems integration and major assemblies. The first flight of the V-280 is anticipated in the second half of 2017.
“We have made great strides on the commercial front in 2015,” Snyder said, “with more progress to be made this year.”
On the military front, the Bell Boeing V-22 was selected for the Navy Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) program, which accounts for a planned 40 V-22s for the U.S. Navy. The company also contracted for foreign military sales for Japan for five of a potential 17 V-22s and three of potential 12 AH-1Z aircraft for Pakistan.
Bell Helicopter also added support, service and training capabilities at its Prague and Singapore locations as well as opening regional offices in Japan and Mexico, the new Bell Helicopter Training Academy in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Lafayette Assembly Centre in Louisiana.
“Our customers are looking for differentiation that expands the scope of their operations,” said Snyder. “Bell Helicopter’s success last year is a testament to the value our products add to our customers’ missions. We look forward to continue working with our customers to advance existing technologies and further the future of rotorcraft.
When asked about Bell’s Mirabel, Que. operations – which have seen significant layoffs and cutbacks over the past 18 months – Snyder was clear the operation still has major significance to the company’s future. “We are definitely committed to Canada, committed to Mirabel,” he said. “Even though we have had this tough economic situation where commercial business has hit them hard, we remain committed. We will have a new product line there. We definitely want to be involved in Canada and I have let the workforce know that, too.”
In terms of future innovation, Snyder is encouraging his staff to look to other industries and technologies to seek ways to innovate and help transform the next generation of flight while staying focused on the success of programs such as the 505, 525 407 and 412 EPI, not to mention numerous military successes.
“All in all, when you look across the business at Bell, during a tough market, a tough year, we had some tremendous wins that are going to pay dividends in the future.”