Joint manufacturing project will be first to involve foreign partner and could be producing by year-end

Sikorsky Aircraft and Chinese Shanghai Little Eagle Science and Technology (SLEC) are close to securing Chinese government approval for launch of their light helicopter manufacturing joint venture.

Shanghai Sikorsky Aircraft will be 51% owned by SLEC, with the US manufacturer holding the balance, and will licence-produce the Schweizer 300 three-seat helicopter for the Chinese market. It will be the first China-based helicopter manufacturing joint venture to involve a foreign partner.

"We have received approval for our feasibility study from the Civil Aviation Administration of China," says Shanghai Sikorsky Aircraft general manager Chris Jaran. He says Beijing could issue a business licence within the next "six-eight weeks", allowing production to begin before the end of the year.

Sikorsky has a licence to distribute Schweizer helicopters in China and several other Asian countries including Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. It has already sold five aircraft to Chinese customers: four two-seat 300CB series trainers to a flying school and a single 300C three-seat high performance version.

Subassemblies for the initial  three aircraft arrived in Shanghai on 26 August and the remaining two are scheduled to arrive in Guangzhou in early September, according to Jaran. The first batch is scheduled to be assembled by Schweizer engineers working under the observation of local engineers, before the beginning of in-country assembly.

Jaran says the new joint venture will assemble about 15 Schweizer 300s this year, though initial capacity will be for up to 24 per year. Ultimately a rate of 48 could be reached if demand is sufficient. About 20 two to three-seat helicopters of all models have been delivered to Chinese customers in the past two years.

He describes China as potentially the "world's biggest market" for light helicopters, with demand coming principally from flight schools, government agencies, police bureaux, and forestry and powerline patrol agencies.

Although Shanghai Sikorsky Aircraft will initially assemble helicopters from imported parts, Jaran says the company will gradually take over responsibility for full parts and subassembly production as part of a "phased approach".

Sikorsky hopes participation in the joint venture will help open the door to future sales of its larger S-76 and S-92 helicopters. It recently sold a pair of S-76s to the ministry of communication for search and rescue. Jingdezhen Helicopter Group is a partner in the S-92 programme with responsibility for the tail section.

Plans to form the joint-venture company with SLEC were announced earlier this year (Flight International, 12-18 February). The 900kg (2,000lb)-class 300 model is equipped with a single Textron Lycoming HIO-360 piston engine.

Source: Flight International