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China seeks to fill gap in civil aviation sector
By Zhao Lei ( China Daily )
Updated: 2013-09-09

China seeks to fill gap in civil aviation sector

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.Photos by Jia Lei / for China Daily

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.

"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 percent 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 favorable 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.

Wide range of use

Civil helicopters have been used in a wide range of roles, including law enforcement, forest fire patrols, the inspection on power lines and oil pipelines, as well as maritime rescue, according to Cai.

Chen Ping, deputy head of the promotion center for emergency assistance under the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said almost 40 percent of people who die in accidents go into cardiac arrest before an ambulance arrives, and 10 percent on the way to hospital, showing the importance of prompt medical assistance.

He said the fastest and most efficient rescue vehicle is a helicopter.

"After the magnitude-7 earthquake struck Ya'an, in Sichuan, in April, four helicopters sent by the People's Liberation Army made 132 flights and transported 385 injured people. They helped check several seriously hit townships that had been isolated from the outside due to destroyed roads.

"Three civil helicopters also participated in the relief work by carrying medicine and patrolling power lines."

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