Proposed Shanghai helicopter centre and opening of airspace could be first step in long-awaited industry expansion
China is considering opening up airspace in the Shanghai Delta to general aviation and approving the establishment of a 12-15 hangar helicopter centre at Shanghai’s Rong-Hua airport.
Representatives from the Heli–copter Association International, the European Helicopter Association and the China World Helicopter Association have proposed constructing the 120,000m2 (1.3 million ft2) Shanghai Helicopter Centre (SHC) with $25 million in financing from international investors including the Tokyo office of the International Finance Corporation.
The project’s working group, led by former HAI chairman and current European Air Crane chief executive Gian Franco Blower, expects the centre will initially host 30 helicopters, but rapidly expand over five years to 200-300 machines.
The proposal was made in December to government officials in Shanghai and Beijing. While China has not yet provided any timeframe for potential approval, Blower says “up to now there have been good exchanges” and he has been invited back later this month for further talks with Shanghai officials. “They have approved mentally the concept of the Shanghai Helicopter Centre,” he says, adding the government is “looking to establish a working area where helicopters are allowed to fly”.
General aviation operations are now heavily restricted throughout China and are typically prohibited around major cities. But demand in China is expected to boom for civil helicopter services such as VIP charters, emergency medical services, firefighting, electronic news gathering and power line patrols. SHC backers believe if China opens its airspace to helicopters, starting with Shanghai and if successful later extending the model to other cities, the market will grow from fewer than 100 helicopters to between 5,000 and 7,000 aircraft.
“You can’t develop a helicopter industry with restricted airspace,” says Blower. The SHC project group, which was initially established in Japan, aims to start construction of the centre by year-end and launch operations in 2007. The backers propose establishing a private company to run the SHC and expect international operators will form joint ventures with local general aviation companies to operate the helicopters.
BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE