Eurocopter plans to start another helicopter production facility in China, with the EADS subsidiary looking to partner either government agencies or the private sector in the programme.

A decision will be made within the first quarter of 2008, says Norbert Ducrot, Eurocopter's senior vice-president for sales and marketing in Asia. He adds that the company will likely choose a light helicopter similar to the EC135, EC145 and Ecureuil class of aircraft in its portfolio.

"We'll study where the demand will be before making a decision on the type," says Ducrot. "This is a huge market and we need to be prepared. We must ramp up production, boost our infrastructure and increase our range to take advantage."

The company forecasts that China will need at least 300 helicopters by 2015, with total demand exceeding 1,000 aircraft with the rapid development of China's economy. Demand will be mainly driven by public-service missions such as homeland security, emergency medical services, disaster relief, fire fighting and environment monitoring.

Plans by the Chinese authorities to relax the rules on low-altitude flying, an issue which prevented the growth of the country's helicopter market over the years, will also give the market a boost, says Ducrot. China's air space is strictly controlled by the military, which industry sources say severely restricts flying between 3,300ft and 13,000ft due to the shortage of radars that can identify small aircraft and for security reasons.

"Things will get better get nearer to the Olympic Games in Beijing next year and the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010. More and more, we will see new regulations on low-altitude flying and we are preparing for this," says Ducrot. "The last two to three years has seen a rapid growth in the market and that has continued this year.

Eurocopter currently produces the EC120 in a joint venture with the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp (CATIC), domestic manufacturer Harbin Aviation and Singapore Technologies Aerospace (ST Aero). This is manufactured at the Harbin facilities in China and known as HC120 in the country.

It is also co-developing the 6t EC175 with Harbin, a subsidiary of China's AVIC II, in a €600 million ($830 million) programme. The Z-15, as it is known in China, fills a niche between the 5t Dauphin and 10t Super Puma. It is scheduled to gain European and Chinese certification in 2009 and enter series production in 2011. Production will be split evenly between China and France, with a market for up to 800 EC175s over 20 years being predicted.

Eurocopter is also keen to set up a helicopter pilot training school in China and Ducrot says that a decision on this could be expected before the end of 2007. This will likely come under the company's wholly owned subsidiary Eurocopter China.

Source: Flight International