Bell Helicopter CEO eyes comeback after sales slump

Mitch Snyder 

A year after taking the helm at Bell Helicopter Inc., president and CEO Mitch Snyder vows to go head-to-head with Boeing and Sikorsky with the V280 Valor, the Fort Worth firm’s new tilt-rotor aircraft.

“It has the potential to replace every Blackhawk and Apache in the U.S. Army fleet,” said Snyder, speaking at a Dec. 6 Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Sikorsky builds the UH-60 Blackhawk and Boeing builds the AH-64 Apache.

Also winning high praise from Snyder were Bell’s 525 Relentless and the 505 Jet Ranger X, commercial helicopters that has the firm’s 4,000 Fort Worth employees busy.

Bell hopes the new aircraft will help the company right itself after a tough year in which a turbulent oil industry crippled military orders for its V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Total commercial sales this year are expected to drop 50 percent compared with three years ago, Snyder said.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

“When faced with these tough conditions, it can be easy to hunker down and ride out the storm,” he said, referring to trimming expenses and projects.

“We chose another route – to continue investing in new aircraft like the 525 Relentless, 505 Jet Ranger X and V-280 Valor,” Snyder said.

Bell, a division of Textron, based in Providence, Rhode Island, has a lot to prove. It cut 1,100 jobs last year while offering employees early retirement packages. A firm that employed 11,000 men and women in 2011 now employs 7,000. But it’s determined to regain its market strength and restore its sales momentum.

However, it faces a reinvigorated competitor with a new owner since Sikorsky was acquired by Lockheed Martin Corp. earlier this year for $9 billion.

- Advertisement -

Snyder, who joined Bell in 2004, said he took the helm as CEO amid “an unprecedented commercial market decline impacting every rotorcraft company and supplier worldwide.”

The current grounding of the 525 Relentless following the fatal crash of a test flight in July that killed two pilots is not helping matters. The aircraft broke up in flight near Italy, Texas, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board. Test flights of the aircraft have been suspended as Bell and NTSB officials conduct an investigation. When the aircraft may resume flight has not been determined.

Meanwhile, Snyder reported that Bell’s V-280 Valor flight test vehicle is 80 percent complete at the firm’s Amarillo facility “and well on track for first flight next September.”

Bell and Lockheed, whose aeronautics segment is based in Fort Worth, are developing the aircraft as Bell continues to build the V-22 in Amarillo.

- Advertisement -

“The speed, range and payload of the V-280 will revolutionize U.S. Army battle planning and doctrine in much the same way the V-22 did for the Marines and our Special Operations forces,” Snyder said.

Bell not only will succeed in the future, Snyder said, but also remains committed to Fort Worth. It recently celebrated 65 years in Fort Worth.

“Bell Helicopter is proud to be a part of this vital business, and we stand ready to advance innovation across the industry. We look forward to the next 65 years here in Fort Worth,” he said.