China Set To Overtake Japan as Leading Asian Rotorcraft Hub

 - March 4, 2015, 10:05 AM

The Asia-Pacific region’s helicopter fleet grew by 9 percent last year, with the total number of civil rotorcraft there reaching 2,463 by the end of 2014, according to the latest data published by Asian Sky Group. Managing director Jeffrey Lowe said that while Japan for now remains the region’s most developed helicopter market, he expects it to be overtaken by China in the near future. The figures do not include Australia and New Zealand.

China’s fleet of helicopters grew by 29 percent in 2014 to reach 655 aircraft in total. By comparison, the Japanese fleet stood at 800 units. “I see no reason for that [Chinese] growth to slow down,” said Lowe. “I would not be surprised to see the China market surpass the Japanese market at the end of this year.” Asian Sky found most helicopters in China are operating in coastal areas, primarily around Guangdong, Beijing and Shanghai.

Unlike the more mature markets, in China Robinson Helicopter owns the largest share of the market with 195 aircraft, according to Asian Sky’s latest statistics. After Robinson are Airbus Helicopters (152) and Bell Helicopter (104), then Sikorsky (43) and AgustaWestland (37).

Search-and-rescue (SAR), emergency medical services (EMS) and law enforcement represent 35 percent of the Japanese fleet, with corporate transport and private-use helicopters totaling 22 percent. Seventy-nine percent of the market is turbine-powered aircraft. “The most typical mission profile in country is multi-mission. That's how helicopters in Japan are working 40 percent of the time,” Lowe continued.

Asian Sky data shows that 6 percent of the Japanese fleet is heavy helicopters, with Airbus Helicopters having the largest overall share at 43 percent. Interestingly, the top 10 operators in the country own or operate 50 percent of fleet in Japan.

South Korea’s fleet is the second-most mature, with 200 helicopters on its roster. Corporate helicopters make up 15 percent of that fleet, with the balance being parapublic services such as firefighting, EMS and SAR.

In China, new infrastructure and airspace regulations are helping increase demand, as private flying becomes more and more feasible. “Airspace reform is one of the catalysts fueling the growth of the market,” said Lowe. “It appears that sales will accelerate, as [Chinese aviation authority] CAAC intends to open the whole airspace to general aviation by year-end 2015.”

The Philippines and Malaysia come in with just under 180 helicopters in their fleets. The Philippines stand out, however, as having the largest corporate and private fleet of helicopters (45 percent of the fleet), reflective of both the region’s challenging geography and its open-airspace regulations.

Thailand’s more modest fleet of 115 helicopters includes many government-owned rotorcraft. Nearly 60 percent of the fleet are classified as medium-sized helicopters.