If you weren’t at the Paris Air Show in July 2013, you might have missed Bell Helicopter’s announcement that it is developing a new five-seat aircraft it calls the short light single, or SLS for short. According to Bell, “the focus is on safety, efficiency and reliability through the use of advanced technology. The new helicopter will be multi-mission capable with exceptional performance characteristics.”
The SLS will be powered by a single Turbomeca Arrius 2R powerplant rated at 504 shp for takeoff. The max range is 360+ nm and the useful load is 1,500+ pounds.
In mid-December 2013, Bell Helicopter, along with the state of Louisiana, announced plans to produce its SLS helicopter in Lafayette, LA. It will fill the Bell JetRanger’s historic position in Bell’s product portfolio. Bell will create 115 new direct jobs, averaging more than $55,000 per year plus benefits, and will invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling to produce the helicopter. The Louisiana Economic Development Authority (LEDA) estimates the aerospace project will result in another 136 new, permanent indirect jobs, for a total of more than 250 new jobs in Acadiana, LA.
Bell Helicopter will lease space for its SLS assembly operation in a new 82,300-square-foot, $26.3 million hangar facility at Lafayette Regional Airport. The hangar facility will be owned by the Lafayette Regional Airport, and built there on a 14.5-acre site that is located adjacent to U.S. Highway 90. Construction will begin in the first half of 2014. Bell will begin hiring employees for the facility by 2015 and assembly operations will start by 2016, following certification of the facility and the aircraft.
Bell Helicopter’s production of the five-seat, single-engine, turbine-powered helicopter will unveil a contemporary version of the aircraft pioneered by the company more than 50 years ago as the Bell JetRanger.
Bell selected Louisiana for the new facility after a highly-competitive site selection process in which several states were seriously considered. At the core of Louisiana’s competitive advantage was the strength of its business climate. In recent years, the state has enacted reforms to create an atmosphere that Forbes magazine calls, “America’s new frontier for business opportunity.” Louisiana now ranks in the Top 10 states in the country for business climate according to several national publications, including area development, business facilities and site selection magazines.
“As the first complete aircraft assembly plant in Louisiana, this project is significant not only for our city, but the whole Acadiana area and our entire state,” said Lafayette City-Parish president Joey Durel. “I am thrilled to see that while we were competing for this company to come to Louisiana, and while we knew that we were competing against states that had done a stellar job in the aerospace industry in the past, that we were seen as being the most competitive location. Winning a world-class project from a company like Bell Helicopter is proof of that.”
“Bell’s commitment to build a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and guarantee at least 115 full-time positions is a testament to the strength of the Lafayette economy,” said Matt Cruse, chairman of the Lafayette Airport Commission. “This deal is a true collaborative effort, and would not have been possible without the hard work of Governor Bobby Jindal and his administration and LEDA. The Lafayette Regional Airport was selected in a competitive process and won the selection based upon many factors, including airport compatibility, local economic strength, workforce availability, and a strong economic incentive package.”
LEDA president and CEO Gregg Gothreaux adds that LEDA has actively worked with various divisions of Bell since 2005. “Along with a new Bell facility currently under construction in the LEDA Industrial Park, this announcement further demonstrates Bell’s confidence in Lafayette, Acadiana and Louisiana,” he says. “The fact that this will be the first aircraft final assembly plant in Louisiana in many generations emphasizes Bell’s commitment and belief that our community’s workforce will deliver a world-class product in a world-class manner. Bell will be a valuable addition to Acadiana’s thriving specialty and advanced manufacturing sector, an area we are concentrating on as a significant part of LEDA’s targeted industry strategy. Most of all, we appreciate the quality employment opportunities Bell will provide for our region’s experienced manufacturing workforce.”
“This exciting investment by Bell takes the helicopter industry presence in Acadiana to the next level with the addition of a state-of-the-art assembly facility,” said Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. “It also demonstrates the extraordinary opportunity we have to grow and diversify our regional economy and create jobs by working together. In addition to welcoming Bell to our community, I want to applaud Governor Jindal, LEDA and the Lafayette Regional Airport for winning this multi-state site selection process and securing new jobs and investment for the Lafayette area.”