CHINA - Helicopters represent a massive growth area for China's civil aviation sector, and the national aircraft manufacturer is ready to tap into this neglected market, according to industry insiders.
There are about 30,000 helicopters in use around the world, most of them in the civil sector, said Xiao Zhiyuan, publisher of World Flight magazine.
An AC 313 helicopter lifts a vehicle from the scene of a simulated traffic accident during the opening ceremony of the Second China Helicopter Expo in Tianjin on Thursday.
"However, the number of civil helicopters registered in China is only about 200, even less than that of the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo," he said. "In contrast, the United States has more than 10,000 civil helicopters and Russia boasts of 3,000."
The shortage of helicopters for civilian use has become a prominent issue in China since the country was hit by a succession of natural disasters starting in 2008, when a devastating magnitude-8 earthquake struck Sichuan province.
"Ninety-nine helicopters took part in rescue operations for the Sichuan earthquake, and nearly 70 per cent of them were sent by the military. The lack of civil helicopters has since then attracted attention from authorities and the public," Xiao said, noting that the government later requested the establishment of a national aviation emergency response and rescue system that mainly uses civil helicopters.
The promotion of civil helicopters has since been substantially accelerated, with the government giving more investment and favourable policies to support the industry, he added.
His words were echoed by Cai Yi, general manager of Avicopter, a subsidiary of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the nation's dominant aircraft manufacturer.
"Ten years ago, China produced less than 20 helicopters a year, and after a decade of development, the annual output has increased by 10 times, with nearly 200 being delivered to our clients last year," Cai said at the Second China Helicopter Expo, held in Tianjin from Thursday to Sunday.