Airbus, the world’s biggest supplier of commercial helicopters, has started building its first helicopter assembly plant in the port city of Qindao, China, with plans to produce at least 18 machines a year.
The European company plans to complete construction of its plant by end-2018. The first helicopter is scheduled to be delivered in mid-2019, according to Airbus Helicopters Chief Executive Guillaume Faury.
The plant will be the first by a foreign helicopter manufacturer on Chinese soil and will be jointly operated by Airbus Helicopters and Qingdao United General Aviation Company.
A letter of intent for a 750-million euro ($800 million) deal, involving the sale of 100 H135 helicopters to China and the construction of the assembly plant, was signed during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015.
The versatile twin-engine H135 is usually used for emergency medical services, but the company said it plans to sell the units to Chinese police for surveillance purposes. The light helicopter could also be utilised for police firefighting and tourism.
China currently has a shortage of civilian helicopters for emergency medical purposes and other uses with only around 800 in the country. It is estimated that China will require about 600 light helicopters over the next 20 years.
The country’s low-altitude airspace is currently tightly controlled by the military, but Airbus hopes this will gradually be relaxed as was partially done in the late 1990s for commercial airplane flights.
Airbus Helicopters saw its revenues fall by two per cent last year but is counting on China to boost sales. Airbus also has an aircraft assembly plant in the northeastern city of Tianjin, which it opened in 2008. — Construction+ Online