China's ministry of communications has launched a competition for new medium and heavy search and rescue (SAR) helicopters.

The government agency invited AgustaWestland, Bell, China Aviation Industry Corp II (AVIC II), Eurocopter, Mil and Sikorsky to give presentations in mid-September. A request for proposals is expected to be issued shortly for three to five helicopters to be acquired early next year.

For the medium-size requirement, the Agusta A109, AVIC II Z-9, Bell 412EP, Bell Agusta AB139, Eurocopter EC155, Mil Mi-171 and Sikorsky S-76 are expected to compete. The heavy helicopter contest should feature the Agusta-Westland EH101, AVIC II Z-8, Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma and Sikorsky S-92.

This is the second in a series of SAR helicopter competitions in China. The communications ministry began operating two S-76s in 2002 from Shanghai. Sikorsky believes the fact that the S-76 has carried out several rescues at sea over the last year gives it an edge.

The Chinese last week test flew some of the new helicopter candidates in Europe. Manufacturers do not consider the indigenous helicopters to be serious candidates but they are there for political reasons.

The new order is expected to include one or two medium helicopters for a second base that will be opened in Yantai to cover the Yellow Sea. The ministry also plans to buy one heavy helicopter for both Shanghai and Yantai.

A heavy helicopter is required for the Yellow Sea because of the size of ships operating in this region. Manufacturers say the Shanghai SAR requirement can be met without such a large helicopter but for political reasons one is likely to be based there.

Source: Flight International