Overseas makers to cash in on strong helicopter demand

Updated 2017-12-14 10:02:12 China Daily
The AC352 helicopter, jointly developed by Airbus and the State-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, fills a gap in the Chinese market for advanced medium-sized aircraft. (Photo by Liu Yang/For China Daily)

The AC352 helicopter, jointly developed by Airbus and the State-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, fills a gap in the Chinese market for advanced medium-sized aircraft. (Photo by Liu Yang/For China Daily)

Foreign aircraft manufacturers are very optimistic about the growth potential of the helicopter sector in China.

Investment has continued to pour into one of the last underdeveloped industries in the country as demand is robust.

Just in the firefighting sector, China aims to increase its fleet by 100 helicopters, including 40 large and medium-sized models with "bambi buckets" for high-altitude regions.

Updating the service has become vital, according to the National Forest Fire Prevention Plan (2016-25), which has called for a modernization program.

Naturally, aviation companies are lining up to cash in on growth potential across the industry.

"China has a vast territory and complex terrain conditions," said Marie-Agnes Veve, general manager of Airbus Helicopters China.

"Airbus will not only invest in a full range of products, but also in pilot training, maintenance and other customer support systems," she added.

Veve pointed out that helicopters have become indispensible for emergency and medical services, as well as for law enforcement operations.

The oil and gas sectors also rely on them along with electricity companies.

"With the continuous development of the national economy, the demand for helicopters will increase in China," Veve said.

"There is an especially urgent need for high performance and multi-mission medium-to-large aircraft," she added.

By the end of June, the world's second-largest economy had about 900 civil helicopters, data from Carnoc, China's leading civil aviation web portal, showed.

Obviously, that number is below what is required for a major global economy.

In Germany, there are 800 helicopters in use for emergency medical services. In the United States, there are 1,200 compared to China's fleet of about 30, data from Airbus Helicopter illustrated.

In the next five years, Bell Helicopter Textron Inc plans to triple the size of its fleet in China.

The Texas-based aviation company sold an additional 50 505s to Reignwood International Investment Group Co Ltd during US President Donald Trump's state visit to China last month.

This came on the heels of a previous sales deal with the Chinese conglomerate in March for 60 505s, a light single-engine helicopter.

Currently, Bell and Airbus dominate the industry here with about 50 percent market share of the civil turbine market.

Other major players include Italy's Leonardo SpA, Russian Helicopters JSC and US-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

Last year, China became Airbus Helicopters' biggest civilian market in terms of annual orders, exceeding the US.

"The Chinese market is growing at an average rate of 20 percent annually," the European aircraft manufacturer stated.

To meet the demand, Airbus Helicopters started building a final assembly plant in Qingdao, Shandong province, in June.

The factory will assemble H135 aircraft, a light, twin-engine helicopter.

It is mainly used for emergency medical services, search and rescue missions, and law enforcement, as well as firefighting duties.

With an investment of more than 10 million euros (.79 million), the plant is expected to be finished next year with the first helicopters rolling off the assembly lines by mid-2019.

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