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Bell Helicopter settled a legal dispute with the state over manufacturing operations it formerly had at a state-financed plant at the Lafayette Regional Airport. 

Louisiana gets $9.5 million and can keep a $4.6 million State Police helicopter as part of a settlement with Bell Helicopter Textron that stems from a legal dispute over the company's former operations in Lafayette.

The settlement is nearly $3 million less than what the state sought when it filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming Bell never fully delivered on 115 jobs initially promised nor a renegotiated 95 jobs as part of a package of incentives the state provided.

The helicopter maker had occupied a $26 million state-financed manufacturing facility, which closed in August employing 22 workers after the state terminated its agreement with the company.

The state has since negotiated with a different company to take over the abandoned taxpayer-owned building at the Lafayette Regional Airport. Swiss helicopter company Kopter Group AG is relocating to the 87,000-square-foot facility, with plans to hire 10 employees and begin operations by 2021. By 2025, Kopter expects to have 120 workers in Lafayette producing about 100 SH09 model helicopters annually.

Bell Helicopter's deal was initially struck in 2013, with the company agreeing to build a new helicopter assembly hub for its 505 Jet Ranger in Lafayette in exchange for economic incentives for job creation. Bell later said it could not meet its original promises to create 115 jobs after global helicopter demand fell dramatically, and it moved the 505 helicopter assembly to its operation in Mirabel, Canada.

The company then agreed in 2017 in a renegotiated pact to do cabin subassembly work in Lafayette for a different type of helicopter, the Model 525, reducing its job commitment to 95 workers. That deal also sent a new $4.6 million helicopter to Louisiana State Police, free of charge.

However, a fiery test crash of the Model 525 over Italy, Texas, which killed two pilots, delayed the federal certification process for the craft and sales. The company said that is part of the reason Model 525 manufacturing operations in Lafayette were delayed, but also claimed it was not out of compliance with the state agreement because it had maintained operations in Lafayette.

In August, the state terminated its incentives agreement with Bell Helicopter, saying the company failed to live up to manufacturing and job commitments.

In court filings seeking to claw back incentives, the state also painted the picture of Bell as a bad actor that secretly moved its operations to Texas, all while trying to get Louisiana to agree to a revised deal where a sister company would move into the Lafayette facility to do maintenance work rather than manufacturing.

The state was seeking $16 million it said was owed under a repayment schedule in its agreement with Bell, plus $818,000 in equipment costs.

As part of the settlement reached in April, LED will forgive the $818,000. Also, Bell Helicopter said it won't continue seeking $3.4 million in reimbursements from the state that the company claimed it earned as part of the economic incentive agreement.

Bell Helicopter's attorney, Brian LeCompte, said the company is "pleased to acknowledge it settled with the state on mutually satisfactory terms."


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.