China's helicopter market has the potential to rival the USA's if its government takes steps to help the sector, according to Eurocopter chief executive Lutz Bertling.

Speaking at Airshow China 2008 in Zhuhai, he said that the three main problems are the regulations that restrict the use of low-altitude airspace, insufficient investment in helicopter infrastructure, and a shortage of pilots, engineers and maintenance workers.

"We expect changes in the regulations and improvements to the infrastructure to take place by 2011, and the shortage of crew could take a longer time to resolve. But if you take China's growing economic power, and the size of the country and its coastline, the market could rival the USA's if the regulations are resolved," he said.

"That means that in the second half of the next decade, we could see up to 200 helicopter deliveries a year in China. This is not going to happen tomorrow or next year, but it can happen if the problems are resolved."

Eurocopter is well positioned to take advantage of this growth, he said. The company has had a presence in the country for more than 40 years and began the licence-production of the AS365 Dauphin in 1980, jointly developed the EC120/HC120 with Harbin Aircraft and is working on the EC175/Z15 with the same company. It has sold more than 120 helicopters in China and has over $100 million in sales annually.

At the show it signed a deal for 10 EC155B1s with Citic Offshore Helicopter, which serves China's offshore and oil and gas markets. The company already has 22 Eurocopter helicopters of various types in its fleet. It also signed a contract for five AS350B3 Ecureuils to Allway, which will lease them to domestic operators that will use the helicopters for aerial surveillance and utility work.

The company also sees a lot of demand for search and rescue helicopters, which have proven their worth in natural disasters such as the devastating Sichuan earthquake earlier this year. More than 100 people who were trapped in mountainous areas and deep valleys the aftermath were rescued by helicopters.

Source: Flight International