STORY INLINE POST
Q: How has helicopter demand been affected as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak?
A: The COVID-19 outbreak has generated significant uncertainty in some areas of the aerospace sector, and Bell is not immune to this. However, our Chihuahua site continue to support commercial production operations in 2020 despite the COVID-19 effects. The helicopter market is a special niche and some of our products are in high demand, like air ambulances, law enforcement helicopters and others.
Q: What would you identify as Bell Flight’s main recent innovation in vertical lift?
A: In the commercial segment, Bell is focusing on the development of the Bell Nexus, the Bell air taxi that is going to change the way passengers fly. This helicopter adapts the tilt rotor technology in which we are pioneers, plus the fly by wire control. In the military segment Bell has been selected as a finalist of two FVL Military programs: The Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) and Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).
Q: How have Bell Flight’s capabilities in Mexico evolved in recent years?
A: Our plant in Chihuahua builds subassemblies for all Bell commercial helicopters and we build 100 percent of the cabins for two of the most emblematic helicopters, the Bell 407 and Bell 429. In those two programs we make about 65 percent of the total integration of the helicopter, we build the cabins and we integrate the electrical harnesses, some mechanical parts and some instruments. All of our cabins are shipped to our assembly plant located in Mirabel, Canada. During the last six months of the pandemic we have been executing our customer demands without any disruption, thanks to our supply base around the world and mostly to our Mexico supplier base located mainly in Chihuahua and Queretaro.
Q: How is Bell Flight supporting the development of a local supply chain?
A: Bell Flight has partnered with Mexican suppliers from Queretaro for sheet metal and from Chihuahua for parts and chemical processes. Bell Flight’s strategy has been to support local aerospace companies but the Mexican supply chain still has a long way to go to fully penetrate the aerospace industry. However, through the continuous efforts of FEMIA and the different aero clusters, it will be possible to consolidate the local supply chain and keep projects in the country.
Q: What educational gaps need to be bridged to strengthen Mexico’s aerospace industry?
A: The work that the Chihuahua Aerocluster is doing with local academic institutions has allowed young professionals to graduate from school with the necessary skills to enter the aerospace industry. Local universities acknowledge the importance of the sector and are now creating their own aerospace programs. There is still, however, a gap in technical skills that can only be taught by aerospace companies themselves. While the US and Canada have technical programs at an intermediate level geared toward the aerospace industry, these programs are not available in Mexico. To expand the local aerospace industry, we need more than just engineers; it also is necessary to train and develop midlevel professionals.
Q: What are Bell Flight’s priorities in Mexico amid the COVID-19 crisis?
A: The health and safety of our employees is our top priority and we are focusing on retaining our workforce. Aerospace companies invest a significant amount of resources in training and talent development so losing them is a significant hit. The entire aerospace industry is facing trouble as a result of the outbreak, however, the sector is cyclical.