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Bell CEO ‘very comfortable’ that 525 Relentless will be certified this year

By Oliver Johnson | July 1, 2024

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 2 seconds.

Bell president and CEO Lisa Atherton said she expects the OEM to finally gain type certification of its super medium 525 Relentless this year, with the company having made “great progress” with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The long-awaited 525 will become the first commercial fly-by-wire helicopter when it receives FAA approval, with the 20,000-pound gross weight class aircraft primed to enter a buoyant offshore market.

However, the 525’s arrival on the market has progressively shifted to the right throughout its development, after the type was first unveiled to the public over a decade ago at Heli-Expo 2012.

“We’re really close,” Atherton told Vertical when asked about a certification. “I can’t give you a date — it’s truly up to the FAA with how we get to that — but we are in close partnership with them and making great progress. We have less than a handful of TIAs [type inspection authorization flights] to complete before entering into function and reliability testing.

“I do feel very comfortable that we’ll certify this year,” she added.

Bell announced its first orders for the type in March, with energy company Equinor placing a booking for 10 525s. Deliveries of those aircraft are expected to begin in 2026.

“[We’re] very excited to see both the excitement in the industry and the demand signal for a platform like the 525,” said Atherton of the interest in the type.

She said Bell wouldn’t be discussing the backlog of orders for the 525 until it is certified, but that she hoped to be able to announce other orders before then.

The manufacturer is about “97 percent” sold out for this year in terms of production output across its product lines, and about halfway sold out through 2025. But the tight competition for production slot availability isn’t limited to Bell.

Some larger operators have begun signing large-scale multi-type framework agreements with manufacturers to secure production slots over several years. Most notably, the 525’s competitors in the super medium category — the Airbus H175 and Leonardo AW189 — were included in colossal agreements signed by Saudi operator The Helicopter Company (THC) with Airbus and Leonardo at Heli-Expo earlier this year. Offshore giants Bristow and PHI have also announced these types of contracts over the last few months.

Atherton said Bell is neither encouraging or discouraging operators to sign such agreements to secure production availability.

“We will engage and discuss any type of business arrangement as long as it makes sense for both parties,” she said. “We have certainly been in dialogue with operators on how to best support their business models and fit within our production schedules. We’ve been in constant talks with the folks that you’ve mentioned — THC, PHI, Bristow, and others — in order to ensure that we are able to support them and frankly they support their customers.”

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