Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Bell Helicopter Upbeat About Asia - Charles D'Alberto
With one of the most volatile industry sectors – oil-and-gas – seeing plunging profits and investment worldwide, the O&G supply service industries are visibly cutting back on new investments, including across Asia.
However, says Asia Pacific Managing Director Sameer Rehman, this is not leading the company to anticipate shrinking regional sales.
"Ten years ago we as a company took a very distinct decision to establish a diverted and revitalized R&D division to update our products," he told Aviation Week.
Now, says Rehman, this diversified approach is now paying off: although the O&G slowdown has led to fewer orders for medium- and large-size aircraft for offshore rig supply work, that is only part of Bell's Asia market.
Rehman says the new range was driven by a recognition that Bell had fallen behind its competitors in terms of models and needed to revitalize its offerings.
"So rather than see the current downturn in O&G markets as a problem, we see our new models like the 505 Jet Ranger X, 525 Relentless and 429 as an opportunity to change the way [Asian] buyers see the helicopter market," he says.
"Certainly we don't think we'll deliver lots of aircraft to O&G, but we are very confident that the effect on our business will be unsubstantial," he adds.
Rehman says the company is instead pinning its hopes on what it calls a "rising tide" of rotary usage in Asia.
"Unlike the mature markets in Europe and North America, there is still a huge potential [here] for replacement, refurbishment and training as well as new sales," he notes.
Bell is confident that its existing footprint in the region will be key to further sales. Rehman says there are still hundreds of decades-old Bell 206 JetRangers flying in many countries across Asia, bringing what he sees as an untapped replacement market in the training, law enforcement and personal transport sectors.
"Incumbency makes a big difference in the replacement market," he says.
Rehman also asserts that Bell's 525, currently in final testing (the second test aircraft flew on 21 December), will bring "new energy" into the rotary market. He cited the its ability to deliver the first ever fly-by-wire capability allied to sophisticated safety and avionics as being key factors to high end purchasers of a rotary aircraft.
"The 525 is part of our future," he says, noting that the region holds significant potential for the aircraft to be equipped with VVIP interiors – for which the 525 is particularly suitable, and which has resulted in 70 letters of intent (LOIs) to date.
In the entry-level market, Bell has also put considerable energy into its new Model 505, which made its first flight late in 2014. Since then Bell has taken more than 300 LOIs for the type, to be used for training, personal transport and similar roles.
Rehman says these strong order books as evidence that although the O&G market was not buoyant, the move towards the purchase of new, efficient, low-maintenance and multi-mission capable aircraft was helping compensate for that across the region.
"Buyers like government agencies and large companies are all looking to stretch their dollar further. One example is the Australian New South Wales Police that took a Bell 412 for both tactical and response use – policing and lifesaving," he says.
Rehman also underlines that sale of aircraft is just part of Bell's operation.
"With our new Singapore Service Center 'mothership' serving the region, we have a reinvigorated offering. Our main aim is to provide customer satisfaction, and we just happen to sell helicopters," he says.
Posted By Charles D'Alberto