Sunday, December 09, 2012

China: Helicopter market propelled upward

Rising demand as airspace opens up for private use across the nation

Foreign helicopter manufacturers are confident of benefiting from the continuous growth of China's aviation market and their Chinese counterparts' development of production lines.

"China has around 300 civil helicopters now and it is estimated that by 2015 it will have 500," said Bruno Boulnois, chief executive officer of Eurocopter China, which has almost 50 percent of the market share in China.

That figure should rise to 1,000 in 2020, he added.

Eurocopter received orders valued at 300 million euros ($385 million) in China in 2011, which was more than double the number in 2010. Its revenues were 200 million euros in China last year.

"China's helicopter market is expected to see double-digit growth over the next several years," said Ed Beyer, vice-president of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp, one of the main helicopter manufacturers in the United States.

Sikorsky sold four helicopters to Chinese companies during the Ninth China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in South China's Zhuhai last month.

Beyer said the offshore oil industry is a catalyst for China's helicopter market now.

In addition, helicopters have many other functions, such as rescuing, touring and firefighting, but they have been very rarely used in China. Chinese operators searching for multiple uses for their helicopters will need more helicopters, he said.

"The helicopter market has big potential, especially for rescues, charter flights and so on," said Jian Zhuodong, deputy general manager of the Zhuhai Helicopter Branch of China Southern Airlines Co.

Eyeing the huge market potential, Chinese helicopter manufacturers are increasing their production capacity.

The first Chinese-made large civil helicopter will be put into the market this year, according to Aviation Industry Corp of China, which is the producer.

The AC313, a 13-ton helicopter which took its first flight in March 2010, received its production certificate in November, which means the Chinese manufacturer already has the capability to produce the large helicopter, AVIC announced during November's air show in Zhuhai.

The helicopter has three engines and can fly for 900 kilometers and perform multiple tasks, such as passenger transporting, rescuing, offshore oil exploring and touring.

The two-ton AC311 also received a production certificate on the same day.

Helicopter market propelled upward

This kind of helicopter with a single engine now makes up about 50 percent of the entire helicopter fleet worldwide. The Chinese-made AC311 will also be targeted at users globally.

AVIC, producers of the AC313 and AC311, manufactures a series of civil helicopters, ranging from one-ton and two-ton light models to middle-sized helicopters weighing four and seven tons and the large-sized 13 tons.

The company, a leading Chinese aircraft manufacturer, also cooperates with foreign manufacturers on helicopter research and development.

The EC175, a six-ton helicopter co-developed by AVIC and Eurocopter, has already received an airworthiness certificate in China.

It is a 50-50 percent venture between AVIC and Eurocopter.

AVIC first partnered with Sikorsky in the 1990s, helping to develop the US company's S-92 helicopter.

Foreign helicopter manufacturers also showed their approval of China's helicopter industry by bringing the latter's manufacturers into their supply chain.

In 2006, Sikorsky signed a Memorandum of Understanding with AVIC on selecting Changhe Aircraft Industry Corp, a subsidiary of AVIC, to supply Schweizer helicopter airframe components and S-76 helicopter airframes to Sikorsky.

By 2011, a total of 163 S-92 Tail Rotor Pylon, 60 Schweizer S-300 airframes and five S-76 airframes had been delivered to Sikorsky.

In 2013, Sikorsky is expected to sign a contract with AVIC for the supply of S-76D parts, a new Sikorsky product expected to go on sale in 2014.

At the same time, Chinese manufacturers are expected to increase their production as a result of an expected market boom because the Chinese government plans to open up low-altitude airspace for individuals in China.

"The domestic manufacturers still do not have enough production capacity to meet our demand," said Rong Weiguo, deputy general manager of the Zhuhai Helicopter Branch of China Southern Airlines Co. 


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