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Bell Helicopter cutting 320 jobs in Fort Worth, Amarillo

Bell Helicopter is laying off 320 employees, mostly in Fort Worth, as it continues adjusting to reduced defense spending, particularly on the V-22 Osprey.

The job cuts affect union and nonunion positions, including management. About 235 of the positions are in Fort Worth, where Bell has its headquarters and engineering operations. The other 85 job cuts come in Amarillo, where Bell assembles the V-22.

In a letter sent to employees Monday, CEO John Garrison said there could be more cutbacks in the months ahead.

“We have and will see more reductions across the globe. Unfortunately in September, 36 employees from Mexico were let go, and later this year more than 200 employees will be impacted in Mirabel,” Garrison wrote, referring to the facility in Canada where it builds commercial helicopters.

“Reduction decisions are never easy to make, but they are necessary to position Bell Helicopter for future success,” he wrote. “And I am confident we can and will win in the marketplace.”

Bell has been reducing jobs for two years, blaming tighter defense budgets and the effects of sequestration. The company has announced hundreds of layoffs since early last year, including 325 in May. For the first six months of 2014, Bell’s profit declined by 10 percent, to $237 million.

The company, a division of Rhode Island-based Textron Corp., said it employs about 6,500 people in Tarrant County, including 5,000 in Fort Worth. It has 960 employees in Amarillo.

The job reductions were announced as Bell is consolidating much of its Tarrant County workforce at a renovated headquarters campus in east Fort Worth. Earlier this year, the company opened a 230,000-square-foot, four-story administration building along Texas 10, bringing 1,100 employees who previously worked elsewhere.

The new building is part of a $235 million makeover of Bell’s 1950s campus, designed to reduce annual costs by about $20 million. Many jobs are being moved from Alliance Airport, where Bell last year sold its military programs facility to Tarrant County College, which has since opened an aviation learning center.

Bell plans to move its flight training academy from Alliance to east Fort Worth sometime next year when it completes construction of a new facility.

Under terms of a $13.5 million tax incentive deal with the city of Fort Worth for the expansion project, Bell committed to keep 4,500 employees in Fort Worth through 2020 and 3,900 through 2028.

In recent years, the Pentagon has cut its orders for the V-22 Osprey about in half as the program moves into its final stages. More than 200 Ospreys — a tilt-rotor aircraft that can take off like a helicopter and fly like an airplane — are in operation with the U.S. military. Bell builds the V-22 with Boeing Co.

But Bell is developing products for the commercial market including the 16-passenger 525 Relentless, the biggest civilian helicopter it has ever built. Bell said the first two flight test vehicles are in final assembly in Amarillo, with the first flight now scheduled for early next year.

The other new helicopter, the five-seat 505 Jet Ranger X, should take its first flight by year’s end.