|The first two Cabris shipped to China (here with Chinese markings) will go to distributor Shanghai X-Square Aviation Co. Photo courtesy Helicopteres Guimbal|
Bruno Guimbal, founder and CEO of France-based Helicopteres Guimbal, shared with Rotor & Wing details on the Chinese certification of the Cabri G2 light single, obtained on June 16. The process, a validation of the EASA certification, lasted nine months and did have some peculiarities. A type certificate from the Civil Administration of China (CAAC) is of particular importance for Guimbal, who sees a giant potential market.
“The first main step in the process was the validation of the STC we have for the engine,” Guimbal told Rotor & Wing, as the manufacturer designed an electronic ignition for the Lycoming O360. Then came the validation of the type certificate itself. The third step was an operational evaluation. This means training programs were assessed, both for pilots and maintenance technicians. Finally, the first two aircraft destined to China received individual airworthiness certificates.
The CAAC did not require any specific test. “We showed them exhaustive certification test results,” Guimbal said. He noted China’s Avgas 100LL fuel standard is slightly different from that defined by ASTM. Using such a fuel is not officially validated for the Cabri yet – in fact, it is still unsure whether Helicopteres Guimbal or the CAAC is responsible for the validation. Guimbal made it clear that, as the engine can burn unleaded fuel, the Chinese standard is not a problem. “Standards should be harmonized eventually,” he added.
A CAAC certification obviously opens doors nationally but other possibilities exist, Guimbal discovered. Local permits to fly can be delivered in China’s provinces. “The country is not so centralized,” Guimbal said.
Representatives of the CAAC came four times – once for each of the aforementioned steps in the process – to Helicopteres Guimbal’s headquarters in Aix-en-Provence. France’s authority, the DGAC, did provide some support, including symbolic but beneficial presence at the second meeting. The Chinese teams comprised three to five people. “Each had a real role and was really proficient or, as for light helicopters, will soon be,” Guimbal noted.
English language was not a problem with CAAC people but was a major issue with some potential partners Guimbal’s team met in China. Some discussions had to be conducted with an interpreter. Recently, the company had to train 10 maintenance technicians with a translator.
Guimbal expressed pride about having gone through the certification process independently, without having formed a local joint venture for production. Asked about intellectual property threats, such as reverse-engineering, he did not appear worried despite the cultural gap between Western countries and China. He emphasized that drawing the plans of a part is one thing but manufacturing it is another.
The CAAC’s nod was received the same week when the first two helicopters were prepared for shipment to Shanghai X-Square Aviation Co., Guimbal’s first distributor in China. X-Square will use their Cabris for ab-initio pilot training and will market the helicopter.
Despite slow implementation of the promised low airspace deregulation, Guimbal believes in China’s potential. “A Chinese official told me that the government’s plan is to have three helicopters per district… and they have 2,650 districts,” he said, reckoning that this translates into well over 20,000 pilots needing to be trained.
So far, the Cabri has received 10 firm orders from its Chinese distributor. They are part of a 60-aircraft backlog. The Cabri’s monthly production rate is currently two, ramping up to three.
The Robinson R22 and R44, the Cabri’s main rivals, were certified in China a few years ago.