Bell's most popular helicopters grounded over control problem

FORT WORTH _ U.S. and Canadian aviation safety regulators have ordered the immediate grounding and inspection of the most popular Bell Helicopter civil aircraft models to inspect for and repair an improperly installed control mechanism.

The safety agencies' actions follow on the heels of a service bulletin issued by Bell on March 10 alerting operators of the aircraft models to the potential problem.

Federal Aviation Administration officials, following the lead of Transport Canada, issued an emergency airworthiness directive Tuesday mandating that operators immediately inspect the Bell 206, 206B and 206L models, as well as 407 and 427 models before they fly again.

The 206 and 407 models are Bell's most popular selling civil helicopters and are widely used for air medical, police, fire and television news gathering operations. The FAA said 2,715 are registered in the U.S. and more than 6,500 worldwide.

The order requires immediate inspection of a critical bearing that may have been installed backwards, which could lead to failure of the aircraft's cyclic control that regulates the directional movement of the helicopter.

Aircraft operators must inspect and, if necessary, replace the bearing before the aircraft are flown again.

A spokesman for the Dallas Police Department said all of its Bell aircraft had already been inspected and did not have any with the problem and there was no lost flight time as a result.

Lt. Paul Henderson, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said the grounding order doesn't effect the department’s two helicopters.

Bell’s civil helicopters are produced at a plant in Mirabel, Canada, near Montreal, but they include parts manufactured at the company's Fort Worth area plants.