Eurocopter projects that the total Chinese civilian and parapublic helicopter market will be worth €2.5 billion ($3.2 billion) between 2013 and 2017, as it sees signs of a substantial uptick in general aviation helicopter sales in the country.

The €2.5 billion figure applies to all manufacturers and would account for a 15% annual growth rate.

Key markets such as search and rescue, police, and oil and gas will remain strong. The company expects significant new growth to occur on the general aviation market as China gradually liberalises low-level airspace.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of Airshow China in Zhuhai, Eurocopter executives said that the company sold 15 helicopters to private users in 2011, sharply higher than the average of two-to-three sales per year before this. So far, 2012 has been equally strong for Eurocopter in the general aviation market.

Eurocopter stops short of calling strong general aviation sales an established trend, but is optimistic about sales prospects in 2013.

"GA is likely to remain strong, and a show such as Zhuhai is a good opportunity to get a feel for the market," says Eurocopter China chief executive Bruno Boulnois.

Eurocopter says that China's current non-military helicopter fleet numbers just 300 helicopters, and that this will grow to 500 in 2015 and double to 1,000 in 2020.

A major challenge to the growth of the helicopter market is a lack of trained pilots and technicians. To help address this, Eurocopter is developing training courses for pilots and is working with local universities to develop a pool of qualified technicians.

Source: Flight International