Andrew Doyle/SINGAPORE

Two Chinese-built helicopters, the Z-9 and Z-11, received Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) certification on 16 April, clearing the way for use by the country's general aviation operators.

The two models are manufactured by separate factories under the umbrella of China's Aviation Industry Corporation II (AVIC II).

"This indicates that these helicopters have gained a 'pass' to serve the country's general aviation industry," says Zhang Yanzhong, AVIC II general manager.

The Z-9 is based on the Eurocopter AS365N1 Dauphin 2, of which a large number have been manufactured under licence by Harbin Aircraft Industry Group for use by the Chinese military. There is also reported to be a civil version with 14 seats, a payload capacity of 2.4t and a maximum speed of 160kt (295km/h).

The smaller Z-11, meanwhile, has six seats and can fly at speeds of up to 130kt. Although China claims the aircraft was indigenously designed, it clearly resembles the Eurocopter AS350 Ecureil.

On the same day that the CAAC issued its approval for the pair, Shenzhen Financial Leasing signed a letter of intent with Harbin for the purchase of five Z-9s. Chongqing Three Gorges General Aviation Airlines has also signed an agreement with AVIC II unit Changhe Aircraft Industry Group for a single Z-11.

According to Zhang there are currently fewer than 80 general aviation helicopters operating in China, mostly imported. This gives the country an average of 0.06 machines per million people, compared with a world average of 3.9.

"The absence of domestically made helicopters in China's general aviation sector is not because Chinese-made helicopters are of a low quality, but because China's general aviation market has been all but disallowed from using them," says Zhang.

China "needs to map out a long-term plan for the development of the country's helicopter industry", he says, advocating increased funding and the gradual opening up of airspace below 600m (1950ft) to encourage helicopter use.

The Chinese forecast a need for 1,800 helicopters by 2013, worth $4.9 billion, while flying hours are expected to increase by 26.4% annually over the next 10 years.

Chinese manufacturer CATIC has a 24% stake in Eurocopter's EC120 project. It supplies the fuselage structure.

Source: Flight International