Bell Textron Europe ‘looks forward to record year’
Bell Textron is looking forward to record sales in Europe this year despite losing significant business from Ukrainian and Russian clients, according to Duncan Van De Velde, currently vice president of Sales Europe Textron Aviation.
“This year will be even better than last year despite not having business in Russia and Ukraine,” Van De Velde, told Helicopter Investor, speaking before his latest appointment earlier this month.
Factors driving the European market for helicopters were: Bell’s focus on customer service, demand for training helicopter, VIP transport and parapublic missions.
Last year, the OEM focused on supporting customers across their full range of helicopter missions from emergency medical services (EMS), law enforcement and medivac and military training, according to Van De Velde. “People are now more familiar with our product line up, starting with the perfect entry level model – the Bell 505,” he said. “The Bell 505 is the perfect training helicopter to learn to fly other more complex aircraft,” he added. Demand for this model was strengthening, as western European governments and NATO invested more in initial helicopter training programmes.
Demand for VIP transport was also strengthening in Europe, as clients sought quiet helicopter transport from homes to airport and vice versa. “There’s not only a need for fixed wing aircraft but also integrated helicopter solutions,” said Van De Velde. “We are seeing a lot more of what I call combination power brands – when people fly a Citation Longitude to an airport and then have a Bell 505 or Bell 429 fly them the last part of their journey home. This growing trend is becoming very common.”
The continuing challenges facing airlines – particularly in restoring regional airline services – was also helping to grow demand for aircraft such as the Bell 429, he said. (Some airlines, such as KLM, had even requested passengers don’t check bags into the aircraft hold).
The majority of people buying a private helicopter are private individuals rather than corporate flight departments, he said. Purchases are motivated by the need to make business flights in the week but then leisure flying at the weekend. “For example, in the Bell 505 market, a large percentage of owners are also pilots, who fly themselves for both business and pleasure. But the bigger the helicopter gets, the fewer the pilot owners there are.”
Turning to parapublic missions, European governments, including law enforcement agencies in Germany and Sweden, were looking to the Bell 429, as a stable camera platform, which minimised vibration.
Helicopters for firefighting missions were also increasingly in demand, as global warming extended the fire season worldwide. The war in Ukraine also means that replacement parts for Europe’s ageing fleet of Russian Kamov helicopters were difficult to find or unavailable. “This is creating an opportunity for western-built helicopters – such as the Bell 412 – to replace the old Russian helicopters.” Some countries such as Montenegro were converting troop transport helicopter into fire-fighting configurations for the fire season, he said.
“The world is literally on fire and, increasingly helicopters are seen as a key part of the solution to the problem,” Van De Velde told Helicopter Investor.
Meanwhile, Van De Velde rejoined Textron Aviation from Textron’s subsidiary Bell earlier this month, having previously served as regional Sales director for Textron in 2013, and director of Aftermarket Sales for Textron in Europe, Middle East and Africa from 2015 to 2018.
Last week, in third-quarter results, Bell reported delivering 49 helicopters, up from 33 the year before. Profits dropped $20m to $85m due to lower volume and mix.
Top: Duncan Van De Velde expects record sales in Europe.