ARH Death Hits Bell Hard

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Our boy Bob Cox at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram alerted DT to his story on the downstream effects of the ARH kill.

Bell Helicopter cuts 500 jobs, mostly in Fort Worth

Faced with the loss of a big defense contract and an impatient corporate parent with a sagging stock price, Bell Helicopter announced Wednesday that it was cutting 500 jobs, mostly from its Fort Worth operations.

The job cuts, which began Tuesday, follow in the wake of the Pentagons Oct. 16 decision to cancel the Armys $5 billion-plus contract with Bell to develop the ARH-70A Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter.

All but about 30 of the layoffs will come from personnel at Bells Fort Worth-area facilities, with the rest from the ranks of its Amarillo work force.

Bell spokesman Joseph LaMarca Jr. said senior Bell executives had been evaluating the companys personnel requirements since the ARH cancellation and concluded that more cuts were needed beyond the 280 people directly assigned to the program.

"It allows us to shape our organization in such a way as to make it a more competitive, very streamlined, lean organization," LaMarca said.

The layoffs and terminations were being made at all levels, including 40 out of about 200 upper-management positions, which LaMarca described as vice presidents and directors.

Significant numbers of engineers, marketing and other white-collar personnel were included in the cuts, but LaMarca said only about 20 manufacturing workers.

Several dozen managers were notified Tuesday that they were being dismissed, and the rest of those laid off were told Wednesday.

The laid-off Bell employees will receive 60 days of pay and benefits in accordance with federal law, severance pay and outplacement services.

The company was holding meetings with the laidoff and terminated employees to explain the severance package.

Not all of the people working on the ARH program were laid off, LaMarca said. "You have good people you want to keep, with skills you want, so you have to make some other adjustments."

The Bell layoffs are one of the largest in Tarrant County recently and could foreshadow further cuts by companies as the U.S. economy slides into what many observers say will be the most severe recession in at least two decades.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area added a net 54,300 jobs in the 12 months ending in September, said Bernard Weinstein, head of the Center for Economic Research and Development at the University of North Texas in Denton, but he says that kind of performance probably isnt in the cards for 2009.

"Like it or not, were part of the national economy," Weinstein said. "The national economy is in a recession. Well feel it too."

At least two of the positions Bell cut were reportedly senior managers assigned to Bell Agusta Aerospace, Bells joint venture with Italys AgustaWestland helicopter manufacturer to develop the BA609 civilian tilt-rotor aircraft.

The Star-Telegram reported in July that Bell officials enthusiasm for that program had cooled significantly and that the company would likely turn over a larger share of the development effort to Agusta.

LaMarca said discussions with Agusta over the future of the BA609 were continuing.

Read the rest of this story and other gouge on Texas-based aviation developments at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

-- Christian

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