Eurocopter (Booth P616) is the only helicopter manufacturer exhibiting here at the ABACE show in Shanghai. In some respects, it is no surprise that it is here because it has strong ties with China. The company is counting on growing civil sales in the country, especially as general aviation is to benefit from a more open airspace at low altitude. It is also deepening its roots in the country, with training, maintenance and production joint ventures.
Today, there are 125 Eurocopter aircraft flying in China, according to Eurocopter China CEO Bruno Boulnois. Last year, the manufacturer received orders for 30 more helicopters, including 17 for general aviation use (private and corporate flights, for example)–up from an annual average of five helicopters sold for these purposes in the previous years. In 2011, Eurocopter China had almost $75 million in revenues, a 70-percent increase from 2010.
The best-selling models in the China market are the EC225 Super Puma and the EC155 Dauphin medium twins, the EC135 light twin and the AS350 B3 Ecureuil/AStar light single. For business aviation and VIP applications, Eurocopter is offering the special Phoenix interior for the EC155 cabin, which was created to satisfy the Chinese taste for luxury in furniture, design and decoration, Boulnois told AIN. Also being promoted for VIP applications are the EC135 Hermès and EC145 Mercedes Benz models, with special-edition interior and exterior designs.
Eurocopter claims that in recent years it has garnered a 40-percent market share of the helicopter product segments for which it competes. It also said its share for 2011 alone rose to 45 percent. Boulnois is confident that Eurocopter’s sales will hit its target of an average of 100 aircraft annually within 10 years. He insisted China’s potential is huge, with only 300 civil helicopters currently flying in the country. By comparison Europe has 8,000 helicopters serving a comparable land mass.Registered in Shanghai, Eurocopter China also has offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Harbin and Wuhan. It employs 55 people in positions such as sales, marketing, support and logistics. “Our workforce is growing quite quickly,” Boulnois said.
Chinese Maintenance Ops
In the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) field, Eurocopter joined forces with major Chinese customer Citic Offshore Helicopter Co. (COHC) and Samwell Aviation to create COHC General Aviation Maintenance & Engineering Co. (CGAMEC) back in 2001. A memorandum of agreement was signed last year to expand the Shenzen-based joint venture’scapabilities in MRO, helicopter kit assembly and painting.
With a staff of 50, CGAMEC is a Eurocopter-approved maintenance center. It is the only helicopter maintenance facility in China to be certified by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). In addition, Eurocopter and COHC have agreed to establish an overhaul facility that will focus on dynamic components, such as main gearboxes, for China and the wider Asian marketplace.
In June, Eurocopter and COHC will expand their alliance into the training field when they start operating an EC225 flight simulator in Beijing. Later, the EC225 simulator will be moved to Shenzhen, where the partners may subsequently add an EC155 simulator. Separately, Eurocopter has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Civil Aviation University of China (CAUC) to provide ab initio pilot training in Tianjin.
The Civil Aviation Flight University of China (CAFUC) already has begun ab initio technician training, with Eurocopter’s support, for 15 students at Guanghan in Sichuan province. The aim is that by 2015 the institution will be graduating 120 trainees per year. In addition, by July, type-rating courses for helicopter technicians are to begin in Chengdu.
Eurocopter has two major cooperation programs with Chinese manufacturer Avicopter, involving licensed, local production of the EC120 light single and the EC175/AC352 medium twin. Separately, the company plans to establish a final assembly line in China in the coming years, as Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling revealed earlier this year. The company is now selecting the “best location and the best partners,” reported Boulnois.
Opening Low-altitude Airspace to Helicopters
Rules governing lower altitude airspace in China are being relaxed. As part of the country’s latest five-year plan, civil aircraft will progressively be allowed to fly between the ground and 3,300 feet (1,000 meters). This ceiling will be gradually raised to 13,000 feet (4,000 meters). Initially, the changes will apply only in test zones and flight corridors connecting cities, but later they are to be expanded to entire regions. The entire country’s lower airspace will certainly be open by 2020, according to Eurocopter China CEO Bruno Boulnois.