China Slows, But Still Grows

By Staff Writer | April 1, 2016

Growth of the civil helicopter fleet in Greater China is slowing as its main economy lags, the oil market slumps and airspace challenges drag down operations. Another drag on growth is the expected depreciation in value of China’s currency, the renminbi.

That sums up the latest assessment of the market by Asian Sky Group Ltd. in its 2015 Fleet Report on civil helicopters in the Asia Pacific area.

Greater China’s civil fleet grew 17.9% last year compared to 2014, said the Hong Kong-based consultancy. (Asian Sky defines Greater China as China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.) That is an impressive rate by any standard, and especially so given the state of civil markets around the world.


But the Chinese markets registered 26.8% growth in 2014 compared to 2013, and year-over-year growth since 2010 has averaged 21.1%. Asian Sky estimates growth this year will be about 10%, though that might dip into single digits.

Factors contributing to the slowing growth last year included “the overall economic environment, expected currency depreciation, the downturn in oil and gas activity... and airspace taking longer to open up than previously anticipated,” that report noted.

Most of last year’s growth came in China proper, as was the case in 2014, according to the report. The number of civil helicopters in Taiwan dipped to 39 last year compared to 41 in 2014, said Asian Sky. In 2013, there were 40. Civil helicopters in Hong Kong and Macau totaled 31, the same as 2014, it said. In 2013, there were 30.

The fleet in China proper totaled 694 helicopters at the end of 2015, a 20.4% increase from 2014’s 576, said Asian Sky. The 2014 fleet grew 30.6% from 2013’s total of 441.

“China’s economic growth is at its lowest in 25 years,” noted the firm, “with its big state-owned helicopter operators being significantly impacted by the oil and gas crisis around the world.”

Demand for acquiring helicopters “is also being negatively impacted by government policy, and the regulatory environment and airspace are taking longer to relax, discouraging new entrants,” it added. China still has the advantage of being able “to absorb these specific shocks due to the very diverse nature of the missions” performed by civil helicopters there, said Asian Sky.

Offshore oil and gas support operations make up just 9% of the fleet and corporate and private helicopters account for 3%. But multi-mission helicopters represent 58% (or 446 aircraft). The multi-mission fleet “grew the highest at 24%,” said Asian Sky of 2015’s numbers.

The flight training fleet increased to 79 from 73 in 2014, an 8.2% rise, according to Asian Sky’s numbers. There were 51 trainers in 2013. The law enforcement fleet grew to seven helicopters from 50 in 2014, a 14% rise. There were 48 in 2013.

The search and rescue fleet rose to seven aircraft from 46, a 15.2% jump. There were 45 SAR helicopters in 2013. The charter fleet grew to 29 from 23 in 2014, a 26% increase. There were 18 charter helos in 2013. By contrast, the offshore support fleet shrunk 2.8% last year, to 68 from 70 in 2014. There were 73 offshore helos in 2013.

Almost 70% of helos in the Greater China fleet come from three manufacturers: Robinson (at 32.2%), Airbus Helicopters (22.6%) and Bell Helicopter (14.4%). That is in line with the distribution throughout the Asia Pacific region, Asian Sky noted.

Robinson’s fleet in Greater China grew the most last year. It was up 28.7%, to 246 helicopters from 191 in 2014; there were 122 in 2013.

Sikorsky Aircraft saw the second-highest growth, 25.6% to 54 from 43 in 2014. There were 39 in 2013. Sikorsky accounts for 7% of the civil fleet there.

Airbus’ fleet there was up 16.9%, to 173 helicopters from 148 in 2014. There were 131 in 2013.

The AgustaWestland fleet increased 13.8%, to 41 last year from 36 in 2014; there were 32 in 2013. AW makes up 5.3% of Greater China’s fleet.

Bell’s fleet grew 4.7%, to 110 helicopters from 2014’s 105. In 2013, Bell had 89 helicopters in Greater China.

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