Airbus helicopter assembly line up and running
An Airbus H135 helicopter is seen at the Berlin Air Show 2016, on June 3, 2016. [Photo/IC]
Airbus Helicopters, the largest global helicopter manufacturer, said it strongly believes in the growth potential of the helicopter market in China, as it put into operation its first H135 helicopter final assembly line outside of Europe in Qingdao, Shandong province, on Wednesday.
The plant serves as the first helicopter final assembly line built by a foreign manufacturer in China. The first helicopter assembled in Qingdao is expected to roll off the production line in the latter half of the year.
Airbus Helicopters, a subdivision of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus SE, holds a 51 percent stake, and United General Aviation Co holds a 49 percent stake, according to the manufacturer.
H135, a light twin-engine helicopter, mainly operates in the sectors of emergency medical services, search and rescue, law enforcement, firefighting and tourism. Production will start with an annual capacity of 18 helicopters, and it could be doubled in the next few years to accommodate growing demand, Airbus Helicopters said.
Prompted by the rapid growth of emergency medical services, public services and offshore wind industries over the next 20 years, potential demand for 600 light twin-engine helicopters is expected in China, the company predicted.
"The China market is very important for us and it is going to boom very quickly. We strongly believe in this market. Manufacturing H135s in Qingdao marks the start of a new chapter in Sino-European collaboration," said Marie-Agnes Veve, general manager of Airbus Helicopters China.
"This achievement is a testament to our continued commitment to the Chinese helicopter industry and the strong spirit of cooperation that exists between us and our Chinese partners," she said.
She added that a part of open space at the plant has been reserved for potential suppliers, and the plant may develop into an industrial park in the future to meet significantly growing demand.
The opening of the final assembly line follows a cooperation agreement signed between Airbus Helicopters and Chinese buyers in 2016 for the purchase of 100 H135s for the China market. Five of these 100 helicopters will be assembled in Germany and 95 of them will be assembled in Qingdao.
Components such as the main fuselage, main gearbox kits and the rear fuselage will be shipped to Qingdao from Germany and Spain. The Qingdao plant is composed of four work stations, a paint booth, ground and flight test areas, and a delivery center. The site will employ around 40 people.
Currently, Airbus Helicopters accounts for 37 percent of the civil helicopter market in China, followed by Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. Other major players in the sector include Leonardo SpA, Russian Helicopters JSC and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.
Despite the domestic helicopter sector still being in its infancy and the market scale being much smaller than in Europe and the United States, it has quickly caught up in recent years. The Chinese mainland now stands as the second-largest helicopter market in the Asia-Pacific region, right after Australia. Last year, the Chinese mainland added 82 new helicopters, which is the largest annual increment recorded in the Asia-Pacific region.