Bell Helicopter has found a piece of land near its headquarters in east Fort Worth for expansion of its pilot training facilities, which should cut down on training flights that have drawn complaints from residents in the Keller area.
The new training grounds will eventually allow Bell to end flights to a practice airfield near Texas Motor Speedway and reduce flights to Alliance Airport.
The helicopter manufacturer is under contract to buy 139 acres southeast of its corporate campus and training offices where it plans to conduct the bulk of its training, Ryan Martin, Bell’s real estate manager told the Fort Worth Zoning Commission on Wednesday.
The company needs a zoning change to build runways and conduct training on the property, which is at 2601 Greenbelt Road, just south of Trinity Boulevard and near the western edge of Arlington and the west fork of the Trinity River.
The property is owned by Dallas-based Square Top Partners, Llc. Bell will likely close on the property soon after the zoning change is approved by the Fort Worth City Council, which is expected to vote on the request Tuesday. Zoning commissioners are recommending the council approve the request.
This will greatly reduce the noise impact for thousands of people along the 377 and Rufe Snow flight path. This is intended to be our permanent solution to the noise concerns.
Ryan Martin, Bell Helicopter’s real estate manager
“This will greatly reduce the noise impact for thousands of people along the Highway 377 and Rufe Snow (Drive) flight path,” Martin said. “This is intended to be our permanent solution to the noise concerns.”
Bell called the zoning case “crucial” in its efforts to mitigate the noise issues.
“We are sensitive to the noise impact of our flight training operations and have tried to balance this concern while maintaining safe operations to and from our north training field. We continue to seek out incremental improvements to divert some air traffic off our current flight path until the transition to our new practice (airfield) is completed,” the company said Thursday.
It is good news. There’s a solution and there’s an end in sight. These things don’t go away over night.
Mark Matthews, Keller mayor
Bell Helicopter relocated its flight training center from Alliance Airport in 2015 as part of a major overhaul of its headquarters facilities off Texas 10 and Trinity Boulevard, where Bell has been located since 1951.
Plans called for runways and a practice airfield to be built nearby. But the land Bell selected turned out not to be suitable for helicopter landings, prompting the company to search for another location, Martin said.
That’s when Bell was forced to fly helicopters from east Fort Worth to Alliance Airport and another airfield north of the Texas Motor Speedway, in far north Fort Worth. The company said it will only occasionally use Alliance Airport in the future, but nothing near the volume today.
Bell said helicopters are flown from east Fort Worth to those fields about 25 times a day, five days a week. They follow a path that takes them over North East Mall, and parts of Fort Worth, North Richland Hills and Watauga, but mostly Keller.
Keller Mayor Mark Matthews said he sees the zoning case and possible land acquisition as a positive sign. He and other city officials have been working with Bell officials for more than a year on a solution to the noise.
“It is good news,” Matthews said. “There’s a solution and there’s an end in sight. These things don’t go away overnight.”
Matthews said Bell has already reduced its flights over Keller by about 40 percent, moved flights of its much louder twin-engine helicopters to Arlington and Fort Worth Meacham airports, and all but eliminated night flying over the city.
“It shows Bell is a good corporate partner for our region,” Matthews said. “They’ve obviously been working at [a solution for] a long time.”
Bell has a website, http://www.bh.com/noise, that outlines its operations and provides a venue for residents to voice their concerns.
Bell has already done some engineering and drainage studies on the proposed site. But because the property is in a floodplain, additional engineering studies are needed, Martin said. Construction can’t start until after those studies are done and Bell receives city, state and federal approvals, he said.
“We’ve already started that process,” Martin said.
If all goes as planned, Bell hopes to start phasing out pilot training activities at Alliance by late next year.
The new airfield will have three runways, an observation tower and a building for fire equipment, according to city reports.