Update: Bell Aero Expansion

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Last week, News 4 told you of a three phase expansion project at Bell Aero Helicopter, set to bring in over 350 new jobs to Ozark.

Construction is officially underway for the Bell Aero's three phase process.

City, state and business leaders broke ground on the first phase of the expansion that's expected to add 175,000 square feet of new apron and connectors to runways and a new 30,000 square foot flight operations hangar.

The company's goal is to supply 100 aircrafts to customers’ yearly.

Currently, they make about 60 a year. That's doubled the production of last year.

"We see a strong response to the customers to the product we prepare here and put in their hands, whether they be on a mission to take on the global war on terror or a mission to assist someone after an earthquake. " says CEO for Bell Helicopter, Mike Redenbaugh.

Currently, a lot of work is done inside and when it's finished, mechanics have to take the aircraft outside to fuel and test it. That’s because the present hangar is not equipped with the proper fire safety equipment.

Therefore, if repairs need to be made, the fuel must be drained, then returned inside, which creates additional time and labor that workers say could be used more productively.

"It’s going to help out our flight line personnel tremendously. It’s going to give them a location to pull fueled aircraft into a hangar, perform their maintenance out of the weather, out of the environment that they’ve been working in all these years," says Worker Jeshua Grey.

The company has already hired about 125 people for the first phase of the three phases.

Officials say additional jobs will be created once the company begins phase two, and again in phase three.

Altogether, the company is expecting to create around 350 new jobs for the area.

Ozark leaders say this will convert Ozark from what was a textile manufacturing city to an aviation manufacturing city.

State leaders say this expansion is part of making South Alabama a large manufacturer in aviation, similar to the automobile industry in the central and northern part of the state

The first phase is expected to be completed within a year, and officials say it may take up to eight years for the completion of all three phases.