Bell Building $31 Million Facility at Alliance Airport

In another sign of the recent turnaround in the fortunes of Bell Helicopter, the company is building a $31 million, 204,000 square-foot hangar and office complex at Alliance Airport, where it will perform final work on a new generation of Army recon- naissance helicopters and will upgrade and repair older models.

Bell expects the facility to house about 700 people, many of them new employees, once production of the Army helicopters reaches its peak sometime in 2008-09.

After several lean years, Bell's fortunes have taken a dramatic turn for the better in the last 18 months or so on the strength of demand for spare parts, new commercial helicopter orders and winning the $3 billion-plus Army contract in July to build 368 armed reconnaissance helicopters.

Bell officials, who broke ground on the site Wednesday, say the new facility will house all the company's Army helicopter program personnel. The new complex is attached to the office building that formerly housed the Bell/Agusta Aerospace Corp., south of Bell's commercial helicopter marketing office complex at Alliance.

The complex, being built by Hillwood Construction, is due to be completed this year. Bell officials said they didn't know how many of the 700 employees will be new hires.

Bell is straining to meet the challenges associated with the influx of new business it has received and to fulfill promises made to its military and commercial customers.

The company, in a separate event, also marked the recent opening of an 82,000-square-foot facility in Roanoke for the repair and overhaul of large parts and components for its helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft. The cost of that complex, including new equipment purchases and installation, is expected to approach $20 million.

Bell Chief Executive Mike Redenbaugh said that as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have dragged on, the armed forces are pushing contractors to produce or repair more parts and do it faster to help keep helicopters in the combat zones flying. And it has to gear up to build new military helicopters and develop new commercial aircraft.

"One of the challenges for Bell is, 'Can you do multiple activities?'" Redenbaugh said. "The answer is yes."

Navy and Marine officials have recently expressed concern that Bell is not meeting cost and schedule requirements on a program to remanufacture hundreds of Marine helicopters.

Redenbaugh, who took the Bell post less than three years ago, said Bell is investing heavily in new equipment and buildings and is hiring and training workers to meet its commitments.

"This is how we're going to become the world's premier vertical-lift aircraft company," Redenbaugh said, adding that what he calls "the transformation of Bell" is a work in progress daily.

"As we talk about becoming premier, every process and every activity we perform needs to be challenged, re-examined," Redenbaugh said, to find ways to do the job better, faster and at less cost.

Bell's revenue rose to $2.1 billion last year, a 29 percent increase. The company spent about $100 million on machines and modernizing facilities, and Redenbaugh says it will likely spend upward of $150 million in 2006.

The company's Fort Worth-area employment, which had dipped to near 5,000 in 2002 and 2003, now tops 7,000 with nearly 1,000 more working at the company's Amarillo assembly plant, where it builds the V-22 Osprey.

The new ARH-70A helicopter, a militarized version of the Bell 407 commercial helicopter, will be assembled at the company's plant in Mirabel, Quebec, with major parts manufactured in Fort Worth.

The helicopters will be transported to the Alliance facility, where all the military equipment communications, reconnaissance and weapons equipment will be installed.

Bell personnel assigned to programs for modernizing OH-58D Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopter and TH-47 trainers will be housed at Alliance.

Bell is also competing for another Army contract for utility helicopters and, if it wins, some of that work will be located at Alliance.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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