Sky's the limit for chopper firm

By Zhu Wenqian | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-04 08:26

Sky's the limit for chopper firm

Two passengers experience the Bell 407 GXPs helicopter and take a selfie. [Photo by Yang Guang/Xinhua]

A major global helicopter manufacturer is bullish about China's economic prospects and plans to triple the size of its fleet there in the next five years.

Bell Helicopter Textron Inc, a leading United States-based aviation company, has 20 percent of the country's market share of the civil turbine market with 110 helicopters.

European giant Airbus SE holds top spot with 36 percent.

Other key players in the sector are Leonardo SpA, Russian Helicopters JSC and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

"This market is expected to grow by 20 percent every year," said Patrick Moulay, executive vice-president for global sales and marketing at Bell.

"For example, there are only about 30 helicopters dedicated to emergency medical services in China, whereas the number is 1,200 in the United States," he added.

Overall, there are 555 general aviation helicopters in operation in China compared to 6,590 in the US, according to data released by Bell.

But the country's fleet is projected to double in the next five years.

"We expect a significant demand for helicopters in China," Moulay said. "This will be fueled by growth in the fields of emergency medical services, search and rescue, law enforcement, firefighting and tourism."

Last week, Bell signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Shaanxi Helicopter Co Ltd to sell 100 Bell 407 GXPs helicopters, without revealing detailed financial figures.

It is the largest helicopter order that Bell has received from a Chinese company, with delivery dates penciled in within the next five years.

The aircraft will be mainly used for emergency medical services and law enforcement duties.

"We are very pleased to sign this purchase agreement with Bell," Yuan Xiaoning, president of Shaanxi Energy Group, the parent company of Shaanxi Helicopter, told Bell's official website.

"The 407GXP meets the Chinese market's demand for a single light helicopter. It has exceptional performance and has been widely used in a broad range of segments, including emergency medical services, tourism and firefighting, among others," he added.

Last year, Airbus reported that China had become its biggest civilian helicopter market in terms of annual orders.

To cope with demand, the European conglomerate has decided to roll out its first helicopter assembly line in Qingdao, Shandong province.

The plant will cost about 10 million euros ($11.4 million) and should be completed by next year.

"We are confident that this project will fulfill the requirements of local customers, while supporting the development of crucial helicopter services," Guillaume Faury, chief executive officer of Airbus Helicopters SAS, told China Daily.

"It will be jointly operated by Airbus Helicopters and Qingdao United General Aviation Company," he added.

By 2020, China plans to build more than 500 airports and more than 5,000 general aviation aircraft will be in operation. The industry is projected to be worth more than 1 trillion yuan ($1.4 billion) by then, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Still, China faces a shortage of helicopter pilots and this has had a negative effect on growth.

To solve the problem, Bell plans to cooperate with Chinese industrial partners and help ease training pressures, in addition to providing services for aircraft maintenance.

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