Bell sells 12 helicopters to Chinese buyer

Updated: 2013-10-12 06:01

By Kelly Chung Dawson (China Daily)

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Bell sells 12 helicopters to Chinese buyer 

A Bell 407GX helicopter flying over a city. Bell has reached an agreement with independent representative Reignwood for the purchase of two Bell 407 helicopters and 10 Bell 407 by an undisclosed Chinese buyer. Courtesy of Bell Helicopter 

US-based Bell Helicopter reached an agreement with independent representative Reignwood for the purchase of 12 helicopters by an undisclosed Chinese buyer, the company announced.

The agreement, which was brokered at the 2013 Aviation Expo China, includes 10 Bell 407 and two Bell 429 helicopters and was made in conjunction with a memorandum of understanding that the company will continue to explore business and expansion opportunities in the Chinese market.

"We're very excited about the agreement," said Sara Monger, a representative for Fort Worth,Texas-based Bell Helicopter. "We see a lot of promise and potential in the Chinese market, and we're proud to offer reliable, high-quality aircraft that we believe are well-suited to the Chinese market."

Reignwood Group is a Beijing-based global Chinese enterprise that is active in financing, consumer products, lifestyle and industrial.

Founded in 1935, Bell Helicopter is a subsidiary of Textron Inc and provides training and support services in more than 120 countries.

The company has already made inroads in China, with a sales team and two authorized customer service facilities, which are authorized to perform maintenance service and support for Bell aircraft.

Bell is also in the process of instituting two helicopter-training programs and one maintenance program at existing Chinese flight schools: Guanchen Aviation, based in Anyang; Suilian Helicopters General Aviation Company in Guanzhou; and Guangzhou Civil Aviation College.

When the agreement was reached to open a Bell training program at Guanchen Aviation last year, Bell executive vice president Eric Cardinali described the move as a critical part of the company's strategy in China.

"As the Chinese flight industry begins to grow, safety is paramount and we want to make sure that we train the people who will be flying our helicopters to operate them at the highest safety standards," Monger said. "The Chinese programs are a new venture for us, and something we're continuing to look at in terms of expanding in that market."

Bell has typically flown its own instructors to train pilots in Brazil, India and other countries. For US-based pilots, trainees attend a rigorous three- to four-week training program at the Bell Training Academy in Fort Worth. Overseas training adheres to the same quality standards, Monger said.

The Chinese market for helicopters is still small, with the top two areas of purchase being for utility purposes like power line maintenance and corporate VIP flights. As the market opens up, the company expects that the use of helicopters for emergency medical services and police enforcement will increase. Currently, domestic competition for helicopters is small, but AVIC's recent announcement of a new helicopter model in the design stages could be an interesting addition to the market, Monger said.

One major obstacle for private aircraft in China has been the tight regulation of restricted airspace, but that is changing, she said. The country will be opening airspace up to 4,000 meters as part of its current five-year plan, according to Jens Hennig, vice president of operations at the Generation Aviation Manufacturers Association in Washington.

"We're excited to see more conversation happening around the subject of loosening regulations in airspace, because there's a lot of potential for growth opportunities," she said. "If the airspace opened up more it would help both the helicopter and aviation market in China at large. Fortunately, while we do face some restrictions, it's not nearly as restrictive as it for private airplanes who take longer flights at higher altitudes. We have more flexibility."

Reignwood will serve as a key resource in continuing Bell's expansion in the Chinese market, Monger said.

Other areas in which the companies hope to collaborate include sales and marketing, service and support, reassembly, and customization, the company said. Although some reports of the agreement have indicated that the MOU includes a commitment to the purchase of additional aircraft and the creation of a manufacturing facility, the company has no concrete plans in its ongoing relationship with Reignwood, Monger said.