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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Eye on China: Seeking a Comfort Level

INTERNATIONAL HELICOPTER manufacturers and operators remain hopeful that upcoming events in China will serve to loosen the Communist government’s stranglehold on general aviation operations there.

Industry representatives have been building relationships with officials in Beijing and major Chinese cities for several years. They are seizing the opportunity created by the need to provide security and transport critical personnel and VIPs during the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing and the World Expo, or Universal Exhibition, in Shanghai in 2009.

"We’re on the cusp of what we believe is a breakthrough to opening that market to civil aircraft," said Matt Zuccaro, president of the U.S.-based Helicopter Assn. International. The group has been working as the representative of the international helicopter community in attempting to convince Chinese officials of the contribution helicopters can make to national and international sports and economic goals. "We stand ready to help in any way we can."

Beyond the transportation requirements of those events and the suitability of vertical lift in meeting them, Zuccaro said, industry officials are encouraged by the types of trade events China has been organizing and supporting.

In October 2003, the China Helicopter Assn. and China’s chamber of commerce, the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, hosted the First Helicopter Business Delegation to the Shanghai Delta. Domestic and international helicopter operators and manufacturers in April 2005 participated in an official delegation to meet with Chinese government officials in Shanghai and Beijing.

Last April, the first annual China general aviation summit in Beijing drew more than 250 top executives from China and around the world to discuss general aviation in China. It was hosted by China’s National Civil Aircraft Development Co. and supported by its Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China Aviation Industry Corp. 2 (AVIC 2), and AVIC 1. On Sept. 15, AVIC 2 is to host a helicopter conference in Beijing.

Making inroads with the Chinese government is a key objective of the China World Helicopter Assn. A Japan-based affiliate of HAI whose members include the Chinese government and the government of the Shanghai city government, as well as aviation authorities, operators, manufacturers, and vendors, the group is working to promote vertical lift as a safe, efficient means of transportation. A key role of the group is to promote the Shanghai Helicopter Center, intended as the proof of concept for use of civil helicopters in China.

It is no surprise that Chinese government agencies have acted to bolster their vertical lift capabilities.

The country has set a national policy for creating police aviation units. Shanghai’s Public Security Bureau has ordered two twin-engine EC135s and one EC155 from Eurocopter for that purpose. Guangdong’s police already operate an EC135 and EC120. Beijing has created a helicopter police team to provide security for the Olympics; its aircraft are to be delivered by year’s end, giving AgustaWestland a foothold in the pre-Olympics public-service market. The company sold Beijing two A109s and an AW139, with a third A109 thrown in at what industry officials describe as a very favorable price. Some have said Beijing practically got it for free. The first two A109s are to be delivered this month.

In June, China Central Television ordered a CA109 Power for its newsgathering operation in Beijing. The aircraft is scheduled to be delivered by AgustaWestland’s Chinese joint venture company, Jiangxi Changhe Agusta Helicopter Co., in early 2008 and is to be used to cover the Olympics.

It remains to be seen to what extent China will permit private helicopters. There are some promising signs.

In June, Shanghai Jinhui General Aviation Co. reported it had become the first privately run general aviation company in Shanghai to obtain an operating license. Owned by a real-estate development firm, Jinhui plans to focus on helicopter services in Shanghai and the Yangtze River Delta region. That may include emergency medical, rescue, VIP transport, ocean observation, and airborne patrol services. It said it has purchased an MD Helicopters MD-600N and a Schweizer 300CB and ordered two EC135s (to be delivered in December).

Initially, Jinhui said it will operate from a base at Shanghai Gaodong Airport. It plans to build another base in Shanghai’s Fengxian area. Likewise, Helitong Airline Shanghai said it has two Schweizers and is ready to start rental operations.

A key concern for Chinese officials, Zuccaro said, is how they can satisfy themselves that they can adequately monitor and control civil aircraft in Chinese skies, which to date have been under the stringent control of the military. A means of doing that might mean technology such as the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system the U.S. FAA has adopted as the backbone of its next-generation air traffic control system.

Independent of traditional, ground-based radar, ADS-B provides position, course, and identification of aircraft fitted with the system’s transceivers. Such a system would allow Chinese authorities to have all aircraft pre-registered, providing the comfort level they need to loosen their grip on civil airspace.

Do you have a story to share about China’s helicopter market, or a burning question about it? Let us know at rotorandwing@accessintel.com.

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