Eurocopter has expanded its partnership with China Aviation Industry Corp II (AVIC II) to include co-production of the EC120 and possibly the EC135 or AS355 Twin Squirrel.

AVIC II subsidiary Harbin Aircraft Industry already manufactures most of the EC120 fuselage as a risk-sharing partner. Eurocopter deputy executive vice-president of external affairs and commercial programmes Andreas Loewenstein says Harbin will soon begin assembling EC120s, with first delivery due in the second half of next year. Eurocopter and Harbin are searching for a launch customer but talks with potential operators are "promising".

"The China market is perfect for the EC120," Lowenstein says. "It's a natural extension of what we have done before." He adds that Eurocopter and AVIC II are also in "advanced discussions on light twin helicopters". He says the EC135 or Twin Squirrel may be built in China, with local and possibly export customers.

The "teaming framework agreement" signed last week in Beijing includes co-operation in upgrading the Z-9 and Z-11, indigenous versions of the Eurocopter AS350B Squirrel and AS365 Dauphin, respectively. AVIC II has already begun Z-9 and Z-11 upgrade projects without Eurocopter's co-operation. Euro-copter had disputed continued production of the Z-9 because the original licensed agreement with Harbin had expired.

The deal is the latest in a string of contracts between Chinese and Western companies on local helicopter production. Joint venture company Shanghai Sikorsky Aircraft is building Schweizer helicopters in China, while AVIC II's Hongdu Aviation plans to begin assembling MD Helicopters machines this year, and Wuhan Helicopter plans to assemble Enstrom helicopters from 2004.

Agusta is negotiating with AVIC II's Changhe Aircraft Industries for local production of the Augusta A109E. Bell is also seeking to assemble light helicopters in China with Hafei Aviation Industry.

Source: Flight International