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Helicopter production lifting off
( 2003-11-21 09:07) (China Daily)

China will build an assembly line to manufacture five-seat EC120 helicopters in Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province before the end of next year.

The four partners in the EC120 project-the Harbin Aircraft Industry Group Corp, China National Aero-Technical Import and Export Corp (CATIC), France-based Eurocopter and Singapore-based Technologies Aerospace-signed an agreement in Beijing yesterday.

The assembly line, capable of producing 20 helicopters a year, is the second such line apart from one in France, said Zhang Yanzhong, president of China Aviation Industry Corporation II, which owns the Harbin company as well as a 50 per cent stake in CATIC.

The EC120 programme started in 1993. It was the first time China had shared investment and risks with foreign partners in helicopter production.

China holds a 24 per cent share in the helicopter company, while Eurocopter owns 61 per cent and Singapore-based Technologies Aerospace holds the remaining 15 per cent, Zhang said.

Previously, China was mainly responsible for the design and production of the fuselage, fuel and operating systems.

The single-engine helicopter is designed to meet military and civilian requirements, including search-and-rescue and evacuation operations, as well as intelligence uses, he said.

The EC120 helicopter made its maiden flight in 1996 and began production on a small scale in 1997, after which it was certified by the Joint Airworthiness Authority.

It won more orders after it received airworthiness certificates in more than 30 countries, including the United States, France, Germany and Italy.

By the end of August, more than 400 such helicopters were delivered to customers.

According to Zhang, helicopters are used worldwide because they are easy to fly and land.

Thanks to rapid development in China, the country is now more interested in developing aircraft, he added.

At present, China has less than 80 helicopters for general use, which means, for every 1 million people, there are only 0.06 helicopters.

This is far less than the world average of 3.9 helicopters per every 1 million people, Zhang said.

Moreover, about 97 per cent of China's helicopters for general aviation use are imported.

"The absence of domestically made helicopters in China's general aviation sector is not because Chinese-made helicopters are of low quality, but because China's general aviation market has been all but deprived from using helicopters," Zhang said.

China needs to map out a long-term plan for the development of the country's helicopter industry and increase input, he said.

The country should also gradually open its air space lower than the height of 600 metres, to fuel the development of the helicopter industry.

Experts said further development of the industry for the general aviation sector would help create a new growth area for the economy.

They predict China will need about 1,800 helicopters, worth some US$4.9 billion, by 2013.

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