Lafayette plant to start building helicopters by 2016

Bell Helicopter is expected to begin assembly operations by 2016 at a new $26.3 million facility at the Lafayette Regional Airport, company officials said Wednesday.

The company is set to start hiring next year for the estimated 115 new jobs at the assembly plant, which comes in addition to Bell’s two existing repair and overhaul facilities located in the Lafayette area.

“We know the dedication of the workforce here, and that was a big driver,” Bell Helicopter President and CEO John Garrison said at a Wednesday event to mark the start of construction for the facility.

The 82,300-square-foot assembly plant is taking shape on 14.5 acres at the Lafayette Regional Airport.

The state is paying for construction of the plant, which will be owned by the airport and leased to Bell.

“We are proud to have a leader in the industry locate in Lafayette,” said Lafayette Regional Airport commissioner Paul Segura.

The plant will produce the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X.

The first 505 test model is under construction at a Bell facility in Canada and is expected to take flight later this year, according to information from the company.

Garrison said the company has received more than 200 purchase agreements with deposits for the new aircraft, far exceeding expectations.

“We have already increased our production output above our initial projections,” he said.

Paul Watts, who has been tapped as general manager for the Bell’s new Lafayette plant, said the facility is expected to make up to 200 aircraft a year once production is in full swing.

He said the plant will gradually ramp up production over two-and-half-years.

Bell will retain the 60 jobs at its two existing facilities here, according to the company.

“Bell has had a longterm commitment to Lafayette and our community,” said Lafayette Economic Development Authority President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux.

In addition to funding construction of the new Bell Plant, the state has offered incentives that include $4 million in lease support, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment, and $200,000 in relocation expenses.

Bell officials said the company will invest $11.4 million in equipment.

The 115 new jobs will have an average salary of more than $55,000, according to information from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office.

Jindal, who was at Wednesday’s event, said state economic development officials estimate that work related to operations at the new Bell plant will create another 136 indirect jobs.

“I have always wanted good, clean, high-paying jobs for our citizens,” Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said in a statement. “Bell Helicopter brings that, plus the added value of showcasing the abilities of or people to the world.”