By Jeff Sung/Seoul

By Jeff Sung/Seoul

Despite KAI’s efforts to expand its domestic footprint, the local parapublic helicopter market is still dominated by foreign helicopter manufacturers.

About 100 helicopters are operated for public services – and nine out of 10 of them were imported from overseas. Airbus helicopters has the largest portion of the Korean parapublic rotorcraft market, followed by helicopters built by Bell, Kamov, Leonardo, and Sikorsky.

KAI officials expect nearly 60 of these parapublic helicopters will need to be replaced over the next five to six years, giving KAI the opportunity to win sales with its Surion variants.

“KAI aims to sell about 400 Surion derivatives both in the military and civil markets by 2025, with the export of 300 helicopters in the global market,” the company says.

Some public services, however, have raised questions about the safety of the Surion, which only has airworthiness certification for military purposes.

In 2017, the Seoul Metropolitan Fire & Disaster Headquarters selected the Leonardo Helicopters AW189 over the Surion, citing the lack of an airworthiness certificate for civil operations.

Leonardo also won a contract last July to supply the AW139 to Jeonnam Fire Service, which selected the type over a Surion derivative. Leonardo has clinched five of nine contracts to supply fire-fighting and rescue helicopters to fire-fighting services across South Korea since 2013, with Airbus Helicopters supplying three and KAI delivering one.

KAI hopes a new light helicopter program, which will have both military and civilian airworthiness certificates, will help increase domestic sales.

“To meet the requirements for public helicopters, the Light Civil Helicopter (LCH), being developed in conjunction with the Light Armed Helicopter (LAH), would be an effective platform to expand the civil and parapublic market,” says KAI.

“The LCH, in particular, is an efficient and versatile rotary-wing aircraft providing a wide range of missions including police, firefighting, VIP transport, and emergency medical service.”

Under a 2015 deal valued at $1.4 billion, the 4.5t LCH is expected to be ready by 2021, with the LAH to be available from 2023.

The lightweight helicopter is based on the Airbus H155, a wide-cabin derivative of the 1970s-era AS365 Dauphin. KAI aims to produce 400 units for the local market and 600 more for export.

The LCH prototype carried out its first flight in July 2018, while the maiden flight of the LAH prototype was made this year. KAI expects to build approximately 200 LAHs to replace Bell AH-1 Cobras and older MD 500 helicopters flown by the army.