March 30, 2016 01:41 PM

Company officials say Bell Helicopter, which opened an assembly plant in Lafayette in August, so far has hired 27 of the planned 115 employees who will eventually produce 200 new helicopters annually.

Paul Watts, general manager of the Lafayette facility, tells The Advocate the company expects to increase hiring and begin production later this year after Bell’s new model Jet Ranger 505 X is approved by government air travel officials in Europe, Canada and the U.S.

Watts says the company won’t reach full employment and full-throttle production until late 2017. He says flight tests of the new model are ongoing in Canada.

The state of Louisiana contributed $23.6 million to build the assembly center. The facility is now owned by the Lafayette Airport Commission.

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