Big orders at China’s Helicopter Expo 2015


From September 9 to 13, Tianjin hosted the China Helicopter Exposition. Sponsored by the state-owned company AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China), this event was the perfect opportunity for the company to promote its products and unveil its new programme.

Harbin Aircraft Industry Group (HAIG), an AVIC subsidiary, presented mockups of the AC312C and AC312E helicopters. These 4 tons class medium helicopters, based on the Airbus Helicopters’ Dauphin, will be powered by two Arriel engines manufactured by Turbomeca. The AC312E is planned to be certified by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in 2017 and will only be a technological upgrade of the current AC312A. While the AC312C, which should be certified in 2018, will integrate larger design modifications such a clamshell rear door. Moreover, Rockwell Collins has been selected to provide avionics for these two versions of AC312.

AVIC Helicopter also displayed an AC322 light twin helicopter’s mock up. The AC322, previously known as AC3X2, is a 3.175t helicopter inspired from the Bell 429 and powered by 2 Turbomeca Arrius engines. The Chinese company expects a first flight in 2018 and plans to certify the aircraft under FAA and EASA regulations.

China Helicopter Exposition was also chosen to publicly unveil the AC352, the Chinese version of the Airbus Helicopters’ H175 developed by HAIG after initial codevelopment work with Airbus Helicopter. The main difference between the two aircraft is the engine: the H175 is powered by two PT6C-67Es and the AC352 will receive WZ16, or Ardiden 3Cs, an engine designed in cooperation between Turbomeca and Avic Harbin Dongan Engine Group. While the H175 fleet leader has already reached more than 1,000 flight hours in operation, the AC352 first flight should take place soon in Marignane, France, and the first delivery is now expected for 2017.

On the heavy segment, things are also moving. Currently the heaviest Chinese made helicopter is the AC313, a 13t class helicopter based on the French Super Frelon helicopter which is already used in military operation under the name Z-8 and which is pursuing its FAA and EASA certifications.

However, Beijing, in cooperation with Moscow, are considering an Advance Heavy Lifter (AHL) in the 38 tons range. To fit with the Chinese geographical constraints, this “monster” will also have high performance requirements such as a service ceiling at 5300 meters. To reach these requirements, the Chinese offered the WZ-20 engine of 8000 shp (6000kW) to power the seven blade helicopter.

AVIC was also active on the military helicopter front: first by promoting the export version of the WZ-19 helicopter and second by announcing the development of a new stealth combat helicopter for the Chinese Army. Indeed, the company displayed the export version of the WZ-19 reconnaissance and attack helicopter, named WZ-19E during the five day event. This 4t helicopter, designed by HAIG, is based on WZ-9 helicopter and can carry eight missiles and two rocket launchers. On the other side, 2 years after unveiling a high speed helicopter program, AVIC has confirmed the development of the 4th generation attack helicopter with stealth capability without giving further details. However, even if China might base its design – according to some rumors – on the stealth Blackhawk’s pieces recovered after the crash during the Bin Laden operation in 2011, this new development will still be a huge challenge for AVIC.

In the meantime, Western OEMs have steeped up activities in China and used the show to announce several ties-up with local actors and some orders. Airbus Helicopters had a pretty busy week during the show: the European company signed an agreement for 100 helicopters (H125 and H130) over a five year period with CM International Financial Leasing Corp, and for seven H175s with Hong Kong-based Government Flying Services.

Moreover, the Franco-German company has expanded its maintenance network appointing Beijing Capital Helicopter (BCH), a subsidiary of Hainan Airlines Group, as an Airbus Helicopters’ service center in China. It will carry out maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) work on the H125 and H135.

AgustaWestland, which has already sold 130 helicopters in China, has registered four more orders during this exposition, including three AW119KX for its Sales representative Sino-US Intercontinental and one AW139 for Yunnan Provincial Police.

Sikorsky also announced the delivery of 6 S-76D to the Chinese Ministry of transport for Search and Rescue operation while Russian Helicopters will supply three Ka-32A11BC by the end of 2015 for Firefighting missions.

Even if Bell Helicopter did not officially announce any contract, the company remains optimistic about the potential of the Chinese market. With more than 100 aircraft in the country, Bell highly relies on its new single Engine helicopter, the Bell 505, to increase its presence and its market share in the country. Moreover, Bell Helicopter is considering ways to increase its footprint in the country, but according to Chris Jaran, Bell helicopter’s Managing Director in China, the company “hasn’t found the right partner yet”.

Finally, at the end of the show, a total of around 286 helicopters have been officially ordered during the exhibition, which is three times more than during the previous event in 2013. This number includes 56 Z-9 and Z-19 helicopters and 79 UAVs.

Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.