Bell Helicopters’ Broussard facility opens Wednesday

Bell Helicopter announced Wednesday that it is increasing its presence in Lafayette Parish with a new composites facility in Broussard.

Workers at the facility will supply panels made of composite material to U.S. Bell helicopter assembly plants and to the company’s air-transport customers in south Louisiana, such as PHI and Bristow Helicopters — familiar sights in the south Louisiana sky as they ferry oil and gas workers to their Gulf of Mexico jobs.

The panels also will go to a Bell facility at Lafayette Regional Airport, where workers in 2015 will assemble the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X helicopter.

A third Bell-owned facility, Rotor Blades Inc. on St. Etienne Road, manufactures helicopter blades.

On Wednesday, Bell officials joined local government and economic development officials in opening the $4.5 million, 28,000-square-foot composites facility off U.S. 90 in Broussard.

“This is a big deal for south Louisiana, a big deal for Broussard,” Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais said.

Construction began in 2013 on land off U.S. 90 that Bell purchased from the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

Bell officials and about 30 employees who construct the composite panels joined area government and economic development officials in Wednesday’s official opening.

Bell Helicopter bought Acadian Composites in 2005, and until a month ago, continued to manufacture helicopter parts at a plant on Pont de Mouton Road in north Lafayette.

One month ago, operations moved to the new 30,000-square-foot facility.

“They’ve got room to grow at the facility,” LEDA Executive Director Greg Gothreaux said.

Gothreaux said no Louisiana funds were used in constructing the new Bell composite facility.

Last year, state money did play a role in convincing Bell to locate the 505 Jet Ranger X helicopter at Lafayette Regional Airport.

Louisiana Economic Development, the state’s business recruitment arm, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Bell Helicopter officials announced in December that Louisiana would help fund the plant at Lafayette Regional Airport.

Jindal said at the December news conference that Louisiana would spend $26.3 million to build the hangar that will house assembly operations.

He said the terms of the deal call for the hangar to be owned by the airport, which will lease the facility to Bell.

Louisiana also committed $4 million in lease support for Bell, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment and $205,000 to relocated Bell employees to Lafayette.

Eric Cardinali, an executive vice president for Bell, said the work output by the composite facility employees in Lafayette Parish regularly outshines other Bell facilities, which figured in Bell’s decision to locate in Broussard.

He said the new facility builds panels for new Bell helicopters and also repairs and overhauls existing panels for older models.

Mayor Langlinais said there is money in Louisiana’s construction budget to four-lane South Bernard Road, which connects the Bell facility and others at the LEDA park to U.S. 90 and U.S. 182. Langlinais did not estimate when the road would be widened.