China will need about 300 helicopters before 2015, Eurocopter predicts, because of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2010 Universal Exhibition in Shanghai. AVIC II, the state-owned aviation conglomerate and sole helicopter producer in China, projects that the civil inventory will grow by more than 1,800% from 140 at the end of 2005 to 2,763 by 2026.
Norbert Ducrot, Eurocopter's vice-president for sales in Asia, says the company had a 45% share of the global civil market in 2005 and this is projected to jump to 50% in 2006, especially if it sells 26 helicopters in China this year, as he expects.
At last month's Zhuhai air show, Eurocopter sold two EC135s to Shanghai Jin Hui General Aviation for VIP transport and harbour pilots. Other deals in 2006 include two EC225s, to be delivered by the end of 2007 to China's ministry of communication for search and rescue missions, and two more EC225s to Citic Offshore Helicopter - adding to the 22 Eurocopter helicopters it operates.
The manufacturer is also making inroads in the private ownership market, selling one EC120 to an unidentified individual in June to add to the 15 EC120s already sold so far in 2006. More sales are expected by the end of the year.
Eurocopter's involvement in the domestic industry includes jointly developing and manufacturing the EC175 with AVIC II, with certification targeted for 2008. It also licensed production of the Dauphin to China in the 1980s and has co-operated with AVIC II on the EC120 since the 1990s.
"We have had a long experience in China," says Ducrot. "The Chinese have had time, over the years, to recognise the quality of our helicopters. There is also a strong relationship between us, the manufacturers and the government. That has been a boost."
Challenges facing the industry include the lack of civil control of China's airspace and a shortage of trained pilots, says Ducrot. He says Eurocopter is considering starting a helicopter pilot training school in China together with Citic, but says these plans are at an early stage.