By Jeff Keeling
Bell Helicopter is in the throes of what its CEO mentioned in January would be “another difficult year,” and the company announced Tuesday it plans to shed around 1,100 workers worldwide, with the possibility of some layoffs at its Piney Flats facility.
Fort Worth, Texas-based Bell employs about 500 people in Piney Flats. The company plans to get as many eligible workers as possible to take voluntary buyouts over the next month, before turning to involuntary layoffs, spokeswoman Sue Gordon told the Business Journal via email Tuesday. The company cited continued softness in the commercial “medium market” that is significantly below company forecasts, as well as reduced customer parts purchasing.
“We are making reductions to our workforce around the globe and it is possible these will include involuntary reductions at all of our facilities including Piney Flats,” Gordon said. The local operation provides, among other services, finishing for Bell’s commercial manufacturing, which is headquartered in Mirabel, Canada. “We could see as many as 30 employees affected at Piney Flats,” Gordon said, adding, “that number could be lower pending participation in the (buyout program).”
In early 2013, Bell was featured in a Business Journal article that outlined its plan to invest $10 million and create at least 125 new jobs, bringing local employment over 600. The company also was instrumental in the development of specialized aviation courses at Northeast State Community College as part of the Tennessee Aviation Initiative in order to prepare a local workforce for expected growth in the aviation field.
The federal sequester hurt Bell’s military business in Texas, where the majority of labor reductions are planned. Bell’s parent company, Textron, released its first quarter earnings today and noted that revenues at Bell, a subsidiary, were down, “as expected,” according to Textron CEO Scott Donnelly.
The earnings report stated that Bell would adjust production levels, “and take additional cost actions” to achieve its targeted profit margin ranges of 11 to 12 percent. Bell’s overall first quarter revenues of $813 million were down $60 million from the same quarter of 2014, and its first-quarter profit, $76 million, was down from $96 million a year earlier.
Gordon said Bell has 8,700 employees worldwide, and that about 1,000 of them are considered eligible for the early buyout the company is calling a “Voluntary Separation Program.” To qualify, an employee must be at least 55 and have at least five years of service, or at least 54 and have at least 10 years’ service.
She said Bell will notify employees who could be involuntarily laid off in the coming weeks. Those layoffs would occur by the end of summer.