Matt Jayne, Bell’s Product Marketing Manager, explains how the iconic manufacturer’s state-of-the-art commercial helicopters are optimised for corporate and VIP customers
Matt Jayne has been with Textron a little over 12 years. Now Product Marketing Manager at the company’s subsidiary Bell, he joined Textron as an intern, moved on to work as an aerospace engineer in various sectors and came to Bell in 2018 as a performance analyst, before taking over management of the commercial product marketing team. His experience therefore spans much of the Textron Aviation portfolio, including Cessna, although his passion for Bell and its helicopters shines through. If the name ‘Bell’ immediately brings to mind ‘JetRanger’ or ‘Huey’, then Jayne is ready to tell you there is far more to the company than those iconic brands.
Bell’s commercial portfolio begins with the four-passenger, single-engined Model 505, progresses through the 407, 429 and 412, and culminates in the all-new, 16-passenger, twin-engined and fly-by-wire Model 525. All may be specified in a corporate or VIP configuration, yet Bell has no corporate helicopter brand or special editions. The offer is surprisingly low-key.
Jayne is careful to define ‘corporate’ or ‘private’ helicopter in Bell’s terms. “We see the more traditional celebrity and VIP users, and corporate customers using their helicopter to fly between meetings, but also, and especially in the single-engined market, hopping in to go fly with family, out to the ranch, or for hiking. We have one customer, for example, who uses his aircraft to fly between businesses during the week and out to a small island for leisure at the weekend.
“So, some of the use we see, again especially with single engines, is like an SUV, where it’s a business tool during the week and then the most fun, the best off-road vehicle, at weekends. Other operators have realised what our data shows. The incredible convenience of the helicopter means that on shorter journeys and even some longer trips, a helicopter can be faster than a jet through the combination of not needing to drive to and from airports, taxi for take-off, fit into airport slots and so on.”
How, then, does a customer specify their VIP helicopter? Jayne explains, taking the popular seven-passenger, twin-engined Model 429 as an example. “We have four tiers of interior options and a newly redone online configurator. The base 429 in Standard, utility configuration offers a variety of cloth seat, stretcher and other equipment. The Corporate offer includes four to six leather seats, consoles, interior panel soundproofing and other equipment. Then the Designer specification includes more and upgraded leather, improved tactile elements including billet metal handles, and a choice of three colour palettes.
“And then we have our bespoke tier. We have an in-house design team with samples and renderings, capable of doing almost anything the customer wants. We can match to their car, their house, whatever they are trying to achieve. Custom stitching and styling are available, and we’ll work with any materials that pass the required airworthiness tests. Installation is at our Mirabel, Quebec or Piney Flats, Tennessee facilities.” Of course, should the customer require, Bell will also deliver a green aircraft to the completion centre of their choice.
Bell works closely with customers throughout the rendering and design definition stages to the point, Jayne reveals, “where we mix custom paint or reach out to the paint manufacturers, then apply the colour to a piece of metal and send it to the customer so they can hold it against their car, or boat, or whatever they are trying to match, look at it in different light and make sure they’re happy. Once they are, we’ll supply a rendering that they sign off on and that becomes part of the contract.”
Beyond that, some customers like photographs and video of the aircraft as it progresses through assembly; others visit the production facility. Bell also photographs aircraft in the delivery centre and customers are free to bring their own photographers and videographers too. “It’s very exciting,” Jayne says. “There are lights and a whole experience as a curtain drops to reveal the helicopter. We can even manage the delivery process, with our delivery managers handling the timing and paperwork, and the delivery experience.”
Bell has a standard catalogue of optional equipment for each of its models and Jayne emphasises the flexibility inherent in mixing standard options with bespoke interiors. A customer might choose emergency flotation gear if they intend to fly to and from a yacht, for example, while less obvious choices could include a skid-mounted cargo basket, perhaps for fishing kit or muddy outdoor equipment.
Considering yacht compatibility, Bell works directly with yacht manufacturers. “We want to match the skid footprint to the vessel’s helicopter pad,” Jayne explains. “Then there’s the D-value, the overall length from the tip of the main rotor blade at the longest point in its rotation to the tip of the aircraft tail or tail rotor. We provide that to ensure the yacht has the correct clearance. Then there are emergency floats, life rafts and anything else they need to make the aircraft seaworthy. We can add all of that in the factory.
“Again, we tailor the aircraft to their requirements, while also ensuring it satisfies the regulations of the country of registration. Will they use the aircraft just to transit to and from the yacht? Or will they fly off the vessel to go exploring? If they’re going to visit glaciers, for example, we can add ‘bear paws’ for landing on snow. Or maybe they need a plastic floor covering to protect the carpet from muddy boots. We also have blade-fold and mooring kits, and other equipment so the aircraft can be fully equipped for yacht-borne operations.”
Bell’s customer approach is all about identifying the right product for the mission. When it comes to corporate and VIP customers, especially those choosing bespoke options, the service is truly personal. Jayne enthuses: “We don’t like to think of a customer in terms of ‘they want a 429’. We like to think, ‘they want a 429 but what do they want to do with it? Does the 429 meet their mission requirements? Do they really need a single engine? Or maybe something larger?’ We’ll go through it with them, including the configuration items, and make sure they can still complete their mission at the price point they’re looking for. It’s really an open book.”