LGI expands helicopter business

 - October 30, 2006, 11:47 AM

LG International (LGI) this month is scheduled to open a new maintenance center for Russian helicopters at Seoul Gimpo Airport, with capacity for 24 major overhauls a year. Part of LG Group, LGI–which has 43 overseas offices and $18 billion in sales–focuses on Russian helicopters in South Korea.

The new facility will supplement the existing LGI technical support center, which opened in 1994. It provides storage for parts worth $5 million and links to the Russian industry, housing offices for Kamov, KumAPE and Kazan Helicopters, gearbox manufacturer Red October and engine-makers Motor-Sich and UMPO.

This year the Gimpo team won Korean certification for Ka-32 and Mi-172 heavy maintenance. Doing the work locally reduces downtime because the helicopters no longer need to return to Russia for maintenance. The company has already overhauled 15 Ka-32s.

Russian helicopters began arriving in Korea in 1993, and the fleet has expanded each year since. Ten were added between the middle of last year and the middle of this year. LGI expects the fleet to grow to 100 in the next three years.

The Korean fleet also includes helicopters from Western manufacturers. The registry of the nation’s civil fleet lists 34 Bells, 16 MDs, 11 Sikorskys and 22 Eurocopters. There are 58 Russian helicopters in the region. Kamov leads, with 30 Ka-32s serving with the Forestry Aviation Office, seven with the air force, eight with the Coast Guard, five with the fire department and one with the national park service. The police operate two Mil Mi-172KFs and one Kazan Ansat. The Forestry Aviation Office has four Ansats.

Russian manufacturers say their helicopters have a dispatch reliability rate of 99 percent in Korea, the result of in-house servicing and annual technical forums between Korean helicopter users and Russian industry.

The Forestry Aviation Office claims it increased the fire-extinguishing rate from 62 percent in 1990 to 81 percent last year. The Coast Guard says Ka-32s have rescued more than 1,500 people since 1999.

LGI is looking for new market niches. This year it started a new business, leasing Ka-32s to clients in the open market, allocating two helicopters. Currently almost all helicopters in Korea serve government agencies, but the private sector, industrial and leisure firms are becoming increasingly interested.

LGI estimates an immediate need for Ka-32-class machines in the Asia-Pacific region of 14 in Indonesia, five in Myanmar and five in Australia. The company also has its eyes on Iran, which is estimated to need seven large passenger helicopters. LGI wants to be directly involved in serving this growing market.