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Bell Helicopter looks to India to drive global sales
Rezaul H Laskar Fort Worth (US), May 29 (PTI) Looking at India as a major market to drive global sales over the next two decades, US aviation major Bell Helicopter is in the race to sell 197 helicopters to the Army in a deal estimated to be worth nearly 400 million dollars.

The company, which chalked up sales of 20 million dollars in India last year, expects demand for its helicopters will be largely from sectors like emergency medical services, corporate transportation and services for offshore oil fields, said Bob Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of marketing and sales.

"We expect the Indian market for helicopters to grow to 4.3 billion dollars over the next 20 years, with 40 per cent of the demand from the civilian sector," Fitzpatrick told a select group of Indian journalists who toured Bell's facilities in Texas.

"We are also looking at India as a regional hub for training and product support," he said, adding Bell was "more comfortable" about working from India than other countries in South Asia.

Bell is competing with Eurocopter for the contract to sell 197 helicopters to the Army Aviation Corps, and its 407 model has successfully completed hot and cold weather trials in India. Though officials did not give the price for the helicopter, sources said each aircraft and its support equipment were worth about 1.8 million dollars.

Fitzpatrick admitted Bell, which clocked worldwide revenues of 2.1 billion dollars last year, was hoping it would bag the Army contract to provide "impetus to grow in India".

Having already signed a five million dollar contract with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to manufacture tail rotors for its hugely successful 206 model, Bell has offered to transfer 85 per cent of the technology related to the 407 model so that it can be built in India if it bags the Army contract.

According to the Army's proposal, 60 helicopters will be bought off the shelf while HAL will co-produce the remaining aircraft following the transfer of technology.

"We see HAL as a key partner for a range of things. As Bell expects to double its business in five years, manufacturing capacity is an issue and it's a smart thing to partner with firms like HAL," said Jay Ortiz, Bell's campaign director for international military sales.

Bell currently has more than 50 per cent share of the Indian market for rotary aircraft, having sold 70 of the 120 helicopters flying in the country. Its major customers in India include Pawan Hans and Deccan Aviation.

"This figure will grow to 81 aircraft by the first quarter of 2007, and we want to be aggressive in India as it is going to be a big market irrespective of whether we bag the Army programme," said Fitzpatrick.

He said Bell was also looking at innovative means like "fractional ownership" -- or sales to a group of individuals who would collectively use a helicopter -- to drive sales in India. This, he said, would be done in collaboration with an Indian partner who will be selected soon.

Fitzpatrick, however, pointed out that India's civilian market for helicopters was being "held back" by the lack of infrastructure and trained pilots.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
FILED IN: Defence
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