As in many parts of the world, the helicopter industry in China continues growing steadily and is not as subject to economic ups and downs that frequently hamper the fixed-wing segment of aviation. According to Chris Jaran, managing director of Bell Helicopter China, who spoke at yesterday’s Helicopter Operations seminar at ABACE 2014, it’s a well-kept secret that the helicopter fleet in China has averaged a 20-percent increase from 2009 through 2014, from 227 to 465 aircraft (of which 35 percent are piston-powered and 65 percent turbine).
The main difference between helicopters and business airplanes is that helicopters are used for many more types of aerial work and are easily adaptable to various missions. Half of China’s helicopter fleet is equipped for multi-mission capabilities, the most popular being disaster relief. Helicopter owners and operators are altruistic and want their machines to be available to help people during the next disaster, he said.
The improving regulatory environment for general aviation in China has had a significant effect on the helicopter industry, Jaran said, with most airspace below 1,000 meters now available for flight operations. By 2015, he added, only a small number of military zones will be inaccessible, with the vast majority of low-altitude airspace open. “In some cases, there will be no need to get approval to fly after filing a flight plan,” he said.
China has adapted its private pilot licensing regulations to more closely match U.S. requirements, which will promote growth of the pilot population. Other regulatory easing is underway to allow more maritime search-and-rescue, sea patrol and oil-and-gas operations, he said.
Flight training in China is a big business, but the rate of growth of the helicopter fleet is outpacing the number of new pilots, and the lack of pilot training facilities in China means that many trainees still travel to Australia and the U.S. “If we don’t get the next generation of pilots and mechanics coming into the industry,” said Helicopter Association International president Matt Zuccaro, “it’s going to hamper growth.”
Jaran, who is a member of the HAI Flight Operations Committee, is promoting the idea of launching a China HAI affiliate–a Helicopter Association of China–at this year’s Airshow China in Zhuhai in November. “We want a full-service organization here to help us stay safe and operate profitably,” he said.