The world's first fly-by-wire helicopter, the mid-size Bell 525, is set to make its debut in China soon. Credit: Bell Textron.

Favorable policies toward China’s general aviation industry have provided ample growth opportunities for foreign and joint venture helicopter businesses in China, company officials said at the recently concluded China Helicopter Exposition in Tianjin.

Jacinto Monge, managing director of Bell North Asia, said that the company is bullish on the market thanks to the “government’s continuing investment, preferential policies and support from authorities,” reported.

The company, which is the second-largest helicopter manufacturer in the Chinese market, is expected to sustain its sales with double-digit growth during the next five years in China, he said.

Since 2017, China has released some 60 preferential policies in the general aviation (GA) sector, which aim to meet the ever rising demand for short-term aviation, emergency rescue, entertainment and private flights, the report said.

In light of this, the world’s first fly-by-wire helicopter, the mid-size super Bell 525, is set to make its debut in China soon, and Bell expects it to boost the development of safe, effective advanced helicopter operations.

“There are approximately 180 Bell helicopters operating across China. That number is expected to grow in the coming years as Bell is scheduled to deliver a number of new helicopters to China based on more than 200 orders that have been signed since 2017,” he said.

Echoing Monge, Nicolas Chabee, vice-president, marketing, Pratt & Whitney Canada, said: “In recent years, China has issued policies to drive the development of a national SAR (search and rescue) and EMS (emergency medical services) network and the demand in all market sectors such as offshore oil and gas, corporate transportation, tourism, have grown significantly.”

The company’s helicopter engine products have, to date, powered up to 40% of the civil turbo-shaft engine fleet in China, including helicopters from Airbus, Bell, Leonardo and Sikorsky, in the past two years, the report said.

Wen Quan, vice-president, Sino-Russian Helicopter Co., said that the new emergency rescue policies under the general aviation sector in China have helped the company’s growth.

The 12-year-old joint venture saw a sales slump from 1 billion yuan (US$141 million) to 100 million yuan due to its business restructuring with partners and R&D efforts in the past five years. However, the new orders from the EMS market, are expected to boost sales by 20%, he said.

Twenty helicopters will soon be delivered to the Chinese market from the company’s Russian manufacturers to serve seven medical service projects under the National Health Commission and more such orders are in the pipeline.

Apart from the burgeoning market, Monge, said: “The industry is expecting more open policies in low air space reforms, more human capital and ever improving infrastructure in China.”

One of the big hits of the expo, was a demonstration flight by a fleet of China’s new, self-developed Zhi-20 (Z-20) helicopters, Xinhua reported.

Often called the “Black Hawk looalike,” the multifunctional helicopter, developed by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), made its first public appearance during a massive National Day parade on Oct. 1.

Li Linhua, chief technologist with the helicopter division of the AVIC, said the Z-20 is a medium-lift helicopter with double China-made engines. It can work in bad weather conditions and is adaptable to high elevations.

Observers see similarities between the Z-20 and the Black Hawk in shape, layout and size, although the Chinese chopper has five rotor blades instead of four.

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