China rising in the ranks of helicopter fleet operators worldwide

 - February 26, 2014, 3:15 PM
The civilian helicopter industry in greater China grew by 20 percent in 2013 alone. (Photo: Barry Ambrose)

Call it the decade of “skies opening” in greater China, or, if you are a helicopter OEM call it the decade of sales opportunities. If you are involved with helicopters in greater China today the excitement and growth is palpable. Last year the entire fleet (465 helicopters, 424 based in mainland China) grew by 20 percent, according to the Asian Sky Group Greater China Civil Helicopter Fleet Report, released during Heli-Expo 2014. The Group’s projection for 2014 growth is 20 percent again, based on actual orders placed for helicopters in the region, bringing the total number of civil helicopters to more than 550 by the end of the year.

The largest user of civil helicopters in country is the oil and gas industry. Helicopters service the Bohai Bay, East China Sea and South China Sea oil platforms on a daily basis, and analysts see demand for helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-92 and Airbus EC225 in the future.

In Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong helicopters are being used as part of Ministry of Transportation and Government Flying Services, supporting police, EMS and SAR in those regions. As more areas such as Heilongjiang province in North China are opened for private helicopter and training operations it is expected that civil demand will grow.

China World Helicopter Association’s director general Luo You Zhen brought with him to Heli-Expo 2014 a plan for commercial helicopter routes linking Chinese cities in the Ring Bohai region, starting with Tienjin and Dalian (380km); Dalian and Qingdao (320km); Tienjin and Qingdao (430km). Expected fares in an AW139 or equal 15-passenger helicopter are estimated to be around $350 (U.S.) one-way, according to Lou. The timeline for the project is keyed to correspond with the opening of more airspace for helicopters in 2016. Meanwhile the China World Helicopter Association is soliciting input on the plan here at Heli-Expo, according to Luo.