From The Trussville Tribune staff reports
MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey is welcoming plans by Bell Helicopter in Ozark to assemble the U.S. Navy’s next-generation training aircraft in Dale County. The company will first have to win a competition for the helicopter.
“Bell could not have selected a more ideal location to conduct final assembly of the Navy’s new advanced helicopter trainer than Ozark and Dale County,” Ivey said. “The area is home to many skilled aircraft mechanics, so I know Bell’s workforce will be world class. Plus, the company can count on our full support for this project.”
Bell announced Thursday that, should the Bell 407GXi be selected for the U.S. Navy Advanced Helicopter Trainer program, the company plans to assemble the aircraft in Ozark, where it produces the Fire Scout, an unmanned version of the helicopter.
Bell’s workforce at the Ozark site could grow by 25% to a total of 100 workers if the company wins the competition.
The Navy is seeking to acquire 130 aircraft. Bell submitted its proposal to the Navy on April 2.
“Our Ozark team has the proven capability to deliver advance training aircraft for the next generation of Naval aviators,” Bell President and CEO Mitch Snyder said. “We appreciate the support through Alabama’s workforce readiness programs, and we look forward to continued collaboration with our state and local partners to win the U.S. Navy trainer program.”
The U.S. Navy is looking to replace its aging fleet of TH-57 Sea Ranger training helicopters, which Bell first introduced in the 1970s. Bell is the only U.S.-based manufacturer to participate in the Navy Advanced Helicopter Trainer competition.
Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the Ozark-Dale County area is well positioned to support Bell’s planned manufacturing activities for the Navy helicopter.
“Alabama’s Wiregrass area is dotted with aviation companies and organizations that are focused on helicopters,” Canfield said. “In addition, there is a skilled workforce in place, along with proven training programs, to serve Bell’s needs for this important project.”
Fort Rucker, located near Ozark, has been the training center for U.S. Army aviation since 1955, and helicopter-related activities there are a magnet for suppliers providing everything from fleet support to flight simulation.
Ozark is also home to a campus of the Alabama Aviation College, which offers a two-year program that prepares students for careers as an aircraft mechanic.
Officials in Dale County pledged support for Bell’s plans to assemble the 407 GXi helicopter at the company’s existing facility in Ozark.
“Bell has been a great business for Ozark and Dale County for many years,” said Dale County Commission chairperson Mark Blankenship. “We are really excited about the decision to increase their presence in Dale County. I would like to thank Mr. Snyder for the confidence he has in the Ozark and Dale County communities.”
Ozark Mayor Bob Bunting said the project represents an opportunity to continue the city’s partnership with Bell, which stretches back to 2005.
“With its superb airport and aviation facilities, Ozark is the ideal place to do the Bell 407 final assembly,” Bunting said. “Ozark and its aviation college will be prepared to provide the best aviation workforce for what will be a trainer built by a proven U.S. company which has provided our great U.S. pilots the best helicopters for decades.”
Veronica Crock, president of the Ozark-Dale County Economic Development Corp., said Bell’s plans to build upon the legacy of excellence it has established at its Ozark facility represent a positive development for the community.
“This project will create new opportunities for our citizens and businesses in Ozark and across the region,” she said. “We are incredibly fortunate to have state and local leadership, workforce partners, and a community that provide an environment in which our industries can prosper.”