FORT WORTH — Bell Helicopter laid off 290 workers on Monday, mostly in Fort Worth, blaming reductions in defense spending that prompted a need to tighten costs.Both hourly and salaried employees, including management, were affected by the layoffs, Bell officials said. Another 85 Bell contractors are also being trimmed, officials said.“The realities of our business are changing,’’ Bell President and CEO John Garrison said in a statement released on Monday. “Sequestration is having an adverse impact on our industry, making the future for defense spending more uncertain than ever.”Bell Helicopter, a division of Rhode Island-based Textron, manufactures the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which can take off like a helicopter and fly like an airplane. It is capable of flying long distances at high speeds and carrying heavy cargo.In a partnership with Boeing, the company has built more than 300 V-22 aircraft for the military. But now production of the aircraft is expected to drop by almost half, Garrison said, even though Bell signed a contract with the Navy for 99 more aircraft.“It reduces the build rate on our biggest program by nearly half, which will negatively affect the level of work in the Fort Worth manufacturing centers very soon,’’ Garrison said. “And at the same time, commercial customers continue to demand increased value at more affordable prices. Price matters and every dollar counts when competing in the global marketplace.”Bell’s revenues and profits have been under pressure this year because of the defense industry. For the first six months of 2013, Bell reported a profit of $264 million, down 11 percent from the same period in 2012. Revenues declined by 3 percent.Staffing decisions are always difficult, Bell spokesman Bill Schroeder said Monday. But the company has seen “net growth” among employee ranks in recent years.“Specifically, Bell Helicopter has grown by more than 1,300 employees in the last four years,’’ Schroeder said.U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said the layoffs are “the latest example of why sequestration was such a bad idea when it was passed.”“I also want to take this opportunity to urge employers that layoffs and furloughs should be the option of last resort as there are many cost-saving measures at their disposal,” Veasey said.Bell employs nearly 7,000 workers in Tarrant County. The company has been in protracted negotiations over a new contract with the UAW, which staged a one-day walkout by production workers earlier this month. The two sides are divided over issues including health care, overtime and pension costs. United Auto Workers Local 218 and company officials are scheduled to resume talks on Oct. 3.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard