Analyst: Expect Slow Growth in Chinese Helo Market

 - August 2, 2012, 1:35 AM

Chinese domestic production of civil helicopters is set to grow, but not as quickly as the country’s authorities predict, according to a local market analyst. Matthieu Devoisselle, co-founder of Avia-Tek, a Shanghai-based aerospace consultancy firm specializing in emerging countries, regards government forecasts as unrealistic. But Chinese manufacturer Avicopter does have reason to be optimistic, he adds.

The government predicts that 3,000 helicopters will be flying in China by 2020. Meanwhile, despite Tianjin-based Avicopter’s declared goal of increasing production by 17 percent each year, “Avicopter is not going to meet its goals for local and export market share,” Devoisselle told AIN. Avia-Tek expects domestic rotorcraft production to increase from CNY1 billion ($158 million) this year to about CNY1.3 billion ($206 million) in 2020.

Overall fleet growth will probably benefit Eurocopter and Bell first, Devoisselle estimates, pointing out that Bell has pursued sales aggressively in the last 12 months. Chinese civil helicopter production will remain negligible compared to the company’s military output, Devoisselle said.

But Avicopter’s civil side seems to be making progress, according to Devoisselle, “and quality is improving.” For example, the AC313, a heavy twin developed from the Aerospatiale Super Frelon, “will face no major issue in getting FAA certification.” In June, the civil aviation administration of China (CAAC) certified the Avicopter AC311 light single. The China Intellectual Property Bureau accepted the design patent applications.

Simultaneously, the company announced the sale of 62 Air Sprites, as the AC311 is now known, to Shaanxi Investment & Development, Air China International Aviation Development, China Aviation Technology Import & Export (Catic) and China Feilong General Aviation. These four companies all have shareholding links with Avicopter, Devoisselle pointed out: “Avicopter is generating its own orders to create a momentum.”

The AC311 is expected to account for 35 percent of Avicopter’s production in the medium term. Between 2012 and 2022, some 60 percent of all helicopter deliveries in China will be for this class of aircraft, according to Avia-Tek’s analysis. Despite strong foreign competition in the Chinese market, Devoisselle sees the Air Sprite as becoming Avicopter’s most successful program.

China’s civil fleet stands at 305 helicopters. Sikorsky has the greatest market share, notably thanks to piston singles. Along with Robinsons, they are used for training, aerial work and in flying clubs, Devoisselle noted.