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Bell laying off 115 engineers as profits, revenues rise

Bell Helicopter announced plans to lay off 115 engineers on Wednesday as the company and its parent reported higher fourth-quarter revenues and profits.

Textron, which owns the Fort Worth-based manufacturer of helicopters and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, said Bell’s profits grew by $1 million from the fourth quarter of 2012, to $178 million. Still, the job cuts are needed to sustain the company’s competitive edge, officials said.

“This decision does not mean we are putting our investments on hold,” Cathy Ferrie, Bell’s senior vice president of engineering, wrote in a memo sent to employees. “We remain committed to our future with programs. … But for these programs to win in the marketplace we have to be cost competitive.

“Unfortunately, at times, that means reducing our staffing levels to reflect changes to the business,” Ferrie said.

The layoffs are expected to affect mostly salaried engineers at the company’s corporate headquarters in far east Fort Worth, where it employs about 5,000 people.

Last week, Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill that gave a boost to the V-22, produced in partnership with Boeing and built in Amarillo. The bill includes funding this year for 19 V-22 Osprey aircraft.

Bell has been trimming its workforce in the past year, including 290 hourly and salaried workers in September and 140 in May.

Ferrie asked that employees show “compassion and gratitude” to those colleagues who would be receiving layoff notices and “support to those who remain.”

In its earnings report, Textron said Bell revenues increased by $226 million in the fourth quarter to $1.37 billion as the company delivered 13 V-22s, 6 H-1 helicopters and 75 commercial aircraft. That compares with 9 V-22s, 6 H-1s and 65 commercial units in last year’s fourth quarter.

Bell is the biggest unit of Textron, a conglomerate based in Providence, R.I., which also owns Cessna and E-Z-Go. Textron’s fourth-quarter net income increased by 13 percent to $176 million, but full-year corporate profit declined by 14 percent to $498 million.

Bell’s V-22 aircraft have seen action ferrying freight and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Israel recently requested U.S. permission to buy six V-22s, which would mark the first foreign sale of the tilt-rotor.

Under Congress’s spending plan, the 19 additional Osprey aircraft are part of a $6.5 billion contract with the Naval Air Systems Command signed last year.

Bell is undergoing a $235 million modernization of its headquarters complex in east Fort Worth, including construction of a 200,000-square-foot, four-story administrative building scheduled to open this spring. Bell will consolidate operations from other parts of Tarrant County when the expansion is complete.

The city of Fort Worth approved a tax-incentive deal worth $13.5 million over 10 years for the expansion. As part of the deal, Bell committed to keep 4,500 employees in Fort Worth through 2020, 4,100 workers in 2021 and 2022, and 3,900 from 2023 through 2028.

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