Airbus Helicopters (Booth J23), formerly Eurocopter, is seeing the Chinese market taking off at last, thus beginning to keep its promises. Norbert Ducrot, CEO of Airbus Helicopters China (who is also responsible for Japan and South Korea), said the company plans to increase its presence with more sales, as well as the addition of maintenance, training and assembly facilities. Annual revenues for Airbus Helicopters in North Asia are approximately €500 million ($650 million), with services accounting for 30 percent of this total.
China is still an emerging market but already the first civil market in Asia for Airbus Helicopters, Ducrot said. In 2013, the airframer delivered 25 helicopters to the country, up from a couple per year in the early 2000s. “China is well suited for helicopter development, notably due to the distances to cover around large cities and industrial areas; and the country is not too hilly,” Ducrot said. He estimated that, by 2020, it will be the world’s biggest market for civil rotorcraft.
A favorable factor is gradual deregulation of lower airspace, which began in earnest on December 1 last year. Since then, most general aviation flights have enjoyed a significantly simpler planning process, with military approval for such civil flights no longer required. The long-awaited alleviation of the “regulations on the approval and management of general aviation flight mission” is devised to cut the waiting time for permission to fly from several days to a few hours. Under the new procedures, operators of general aviation flights will still have to file flight plans.
So far, the combination of helicopters used in general aviation, including powerline inspections, VIP transportation and sightseeing flights, accounts for 50 percent of Airbus’s civil sales in China, measured in airframes. By value, the proportion is closer to 30 percent. The remaining 70 percent (50 percent of the airframes) is composed of sales for parapublic uses, such as oil and gas, search and rescue, law enforcement and emergency preparedness, said Ducrot. “The use of helicopters for EMS is going to grow,” he added.
Airbus Helicopters has a maintenance joint venture in Shenzen with offshore operator COHC. In Hong Kong, it has a distribution hub for spare parts and a call center. The company plans to expand its Chinese customer support network in the short term.
Annual EC225 sales in China generally amount to four or five aircraft. For pilot training, an EC225 full-flight simulator is available in Beijing, and an EC135 light twin simulator is planned to be available in the near future in central China.
“In two or three years, we are planning to establish an assembly line for the AS350 B3 and/or the EC135 in China,” said Ducrot. Such a factory has been in Airbus’s plans for three years at least. Separately, a creation of a completion center was announced in 2012 and AIN understands the project, although delayed, is still proceeding.
Meanwhile, the Japanese market is seen as mature, at about 15 helicopters sold every year. This represents 50 percent of the market, Airbus Helicopters claims. Numbers look relatively low because it is a replacement market and the country is very hilly, Ducrot explained. Some 600 civil helicopters are in service in Japan, including around 100 used by the media, he said.
Finally, South Korea is a small market, Ducrot noted. “Despite the economic growth, general aviation has not developed because the military still controls the airspace; in addition, aviation is not really deep-rooted in the Korean culture and the area around Seoul is hilly,” he noted.