Airbus, Leonardo See Great Potential in China’s Helicopter Market

By Frank Wolfe | November 6, 2018
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China h135

Airbus Helicopters delivers the first of 100 H135s for China in Qingdao. Photo courtesy of Airbus

As U.S. and European helicopter industry players attend the biennial China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition this week in Zhuhai in Guangdong Province, Airbus is highlighting the significant potential it sees in the burgeoning Chinese civil helicopter market.

"Currently there are close to 1,000 civil helicopters (turbine plus piston) flying in China, compared to 12,000 in the United States and 8,000 in Europe," Airbus told R&WI. "This fleet could exceed 1,500 aircraft by 2022, an expected growth of 50 percent from 2018. Airbus Helicopters is focusing on its expansion in China. The Chinese rotorcraft market has experienced annual growth of 20 percent in recent years, and we expect this trend to continue."


Airbus and other European companies, such as Leonardo, may enjoy some competitive advantage in the Chinese market , as U.S. rotorcraft companies are bracing for the possibly negative impact of the ongoing trade war with China, including retaliatory tariffs on helicopter parts, avionics and airframes.

The U.S. presidential administration earlier this year announced 25 percent tariffs on Chinese imports, including helicopters and helicopter parts, but has revised that percentage down to 10 percent and has said that it could rise to 25 percent next year. Altogether, the U.S. has proposed tariffs of $253 billion on Chinese imports and is threatening to impose tariffs of $267 billion more, according to the U.S.-China Business Council. The sum of those figures--$520 billion--is $15 billion more than the U.S. imported from China last year, the council said.

For their part, the Chinese have imposed $113 billion of tariffs on U.S. goods, including a 5 percent tariff on U.S. helicopters weighing up to 7 tons. The Chinese imposed the latter tariff in late September. The $113 billion of Chinese tariffs on U.S. goods is just $17 billion less than the total amount of U.S. exports to China last year, according to the U.S.-China Business Council.

"All of this may be meaningless in less than a month, since depending on how the Trump-Xi meeting goes at the G20 on Dec. 1, we could end up with tariffs on all Chinese imports, in which case China would likely retaliate in kind, or tariffs will be put on hold while the two sides negotiate," Jack Kamensky, manager of business advisory services for the U.S.-China Business Council, told R&WI.

Leonardo said that it has sold 185 helicopters in China for commercial and public uses and that the company has a 70 percent share of the helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) market there.

On Nov. 5, Leonardo said that Sino-US Intercontinental Helicopter Investment (Sino-US) of China has signed contracts for 15 AW139 helicopters to be delivered between 2019 and 2021 for Kingwing General Aviation to perform HEMS missions in China.

Leonardo also said Nov. 5 that it signed an agreement with Sino-US that makes it the exclusive distributor of Leonardo helicopters in the Chinese civil and commercial helicopter markets and that includes a purchase and delivery plan for 160 helicopters of various types from 2019 through 2023. The agreement also lays out the future establishment of a Leonardo Authorized Training Academy in China in partnership with Sino-US and the setup of a completion and customization center managed by Sino-US with the capability to configure, customize and complete the helicopters delivered by Leonardo to China.

For its part, Airbus said that it has more than 280 helicopters flying in China and that the company has captured 38 percent of the Chinese civil helicopter market.

"Airbus is the market leader in China’s civil helicopter market with almost 38 percent market share (in units)," Airbus said. "Just about every model of Airbus helicopter flies in China today. Of note there are more than 100 H125s. The main missions performed today are in the commercial segment for utility work (around 180 helicopters), followed by oil-and-gas and public services (more than 30 aircraft in each segment respectively)."

In September, Airbus delivered the first of 100 EMS-configured H135s to the Health Commission of Qingdao. The aircraft has Airbus' Helionix avionics suite, which the company said increases safety and decreases pilot workload. Airbus said that it would build 95 of the H135s on a final assembly line in Qingdao, which is to open early next year.

That final assembly line is to be the first by a Western helicopter manufacturer in China, Airbus said.

At this week's air show in Zhuhai, Airbus plans to display an H130, an H160, an H145 and an H175, a super-medium helicopter produced in a joint Sino-French venture between Airbus and Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC).

Next year, the Guangzhou Police are to receive a second H145 for passenger transport, search-and-rescue, and traffic surveillance and intervention missions, Airbus said. The department ordered its first H145 in 2015.

"The Guangzhou Police has to date accumulated around 600 flight hours with its H145," Airbus told R&WI. "The helicopter has been performing extremely well in law enforcement missions and that is the main reason why Guangzhou decided to order a second aircraft this year to be delivered by mid-2019. The Helionix suite is particularly well appreciated by the pilots."

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