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Monday, January 9, 2012

Bell building Magellan in Amarillo.

Image: Bell B412

Bell to build new commercial helicopter in Amarillo

Breaking with its recent past, Bell Helicopter plans to produce its next new commercial helicopter, code named Magellan, at its military aircraft plant in Amarillo.

The decision to build the new aircraft model in Amarillo, rather than at Bell's commercial aircraft production facilities in Mirabel, Canada was announced today in an email to employees from Bell CEO John Garrison.

Bell manufactures gear boxes, rotorblades and other commercial aircraft components in Fort Worth.

Magellan is Bell's program to develop a new medium capacity helicopter, probably capable of hauling about 15 people and with long-range capacity to get to offshore oil rigs. The company officially launched the program a year ago, with no fanfare, but is expected to detail the aircraft's projected capabilities at the annaul Heli Expo trade show that will be held in Dallas next month.

The following is the text of Garrison's message:

Following a company-wide assessment to determine the best use of our production facilities to meet all of our future requirements, we have decided to conduct final assembly, production test flight and delivery of the Magellan aircraft at our Amarillo, Texas facility.

Amarillo was selected principally based on capacity. Our operating plans call for commercial aircraft production in Mirabel to continue to ramp sharply in the years ahead in anticipation that the commercial market will return to growth in the near future, while military production in Amarillo is projected to decline with lower V-22 requirements with the second multi-year contract.

Cross-leveling our capacity in this case to support our balanced business requirements is the best solution for the company as a whole, ensuring that all our production centers remain engaged, and driving lowest overall costs in order to remain competitive in both our commercial and military markets.

This is not a change in our manufacturing and final assembly strategy. Mirabel remains our principle commercial aircraft assembly center and commercial airframe design center of excellence; and Amarillo remains our military assembly and delivery center of excellence. Engineers in Mirabel assigned to the Magellan development team will continue that work.

In a company memo circulated to its employees in January 2011, Bell officially acknowledged Magellan and said it was a follow-on to “Project X.” Many observers believe the rotorcraft builder is working on a medium-twin helicopter to replace the venerable 412–whose basic airframe dates back to the early 1960s and the single-engine UH-1 Huey–and that this new twin would be aimed primarily at the superheated deepwater offshore oil-and-gas market.

It also is believed that Magellan will have civil and military applications, but Bell continues to decline to comment on the memo, which was sent by Jeff Lowinger, vice president of engineering, and Larry Roberts, senior vice president for commercial programs. While giving few details, the memo said the Magellan is part of a strategy to provide customers with a “comprehensive product line-up that best meets or exceeds their operational requirements.”

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