A Bell Helicopter spokesman denied speculation that the company plans to pull the plug on the Bell/Agusta BA609 civil tiltrotor or sell its entire stake in the program to Italian development partner AgustaWestland. Speculation about Bell’s future in the program escalated earlier this week after Bell CEO Richard Millman told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “We designed the 609 for a new U.S. market and unfortunately we are not seeing that materialize, so we are looking at all options that make sense for the future of this program.
Orders for the 609 have remained nearly static, at approximately 80, since 1996. The spokesman said the company is looking at ways to get “[the] cost out of the product” and looking at “refreshing” its technologies, primarily the avionics.
“Bell invented this technology and continues to believe in this technology,” he said. “However, it is no secret that the Italians want to speed up the program,” which is now scheduled to deliver certified aircraft by 2012.
Two BA609s are currently in flight test–one in Italy and one in Fort Worth. Two more aircraft scheduled to join the test program earlier this year have yet to be added.