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Helicopters have been making the headlines across Asia Pacific for the last few months- and Chinese designs have been at the forefront of the news. A newly unveiled five-passenger light helicopter - the Avicopter AC311 - manufactured by State owned AVIC - China Aviation Industry Corporation- is expected to achieve Chinese certification by November this year.

Mike Vines   |   1st March 2011
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Asia Pacific Round-Up
Busy quarter in China.

Helicopters have been making the headlines across Asia Pacific for the last few months- and Chinese designs have been at the forefront of the news. A newly unveiled five-passenger light helicopter - the Avicopter AC311 - manufactured by State owned AVIC - China Aviation Industry Corporation- is expected to achieve Chinese certification by November this year.

All the while- another Avicopter design the new triple-engine AC313 heavy helicopter with VIP transport potential flew its public debut at Airshow China last November. According to reports- AVIC has received two orders for its Avicopter AC311 to date; one each from the Guizhou and Tianjin Binhai police forces. Deliveries are expected to occur soon after certification.

Avicopter plans to market the aircraft overseas- but it is not yet clear if it will certify in the west. The AC311 has a maximum takeoff weight of 2.2 tons and is powered by a single Honeywell LTS101-700D-2 turboshaft engine. Composites are widely used in the rotor head- main blades and tail blades.

The AC313 heavy helicopter has a maximum payload of 4 tons- a maximum cruise speed of nearly 160mph and maximum range of 940km with 20 minutes fuel reserve. The aircraft first flew in March 2010- and is powered by Pratt & Whitney PT6B-67B engines. Western companies are also finding fertile sales-grounds for their helicopters in the People’s Republic of China.

AgustaWestland’s family of helicopters has already sold more than 30 there since 2003 via local manufacturing joint venture Jiangxi Changhe Aviation Industries (CAH). The AW139 is growing in popularity with the first CAH-produced model used for security operations during the Beijing Olympics. The AW139 is now the best selling medium twin helicopter in China- according to AgustaWestland. Sky Shuttle Helicopters Ltd of Hong Kong ordered six for passenger transport duties- including scheduled and offshore transport across the Pearl River Delta area to Hong Kong- Macau and Shenzhen.

Bell Helicopter has received its first Bell 429 order from the People’s Republic of China. The aircraft was ordered by Mr. Ren Jianjun- a prominent industrialist and pilot- who also owns and operates a Bell 206B-3 Jet Ranger. Helping facilitate the purchase of the aircraft was Heliflite China.

Last year MD Helicopters delivered its first MD 902 Explorer to China. It is owned by the Huaxi Village Group- located east of Jiangyin city in Jiangsu Province. The aircraft is used for general corporate purposes and sight-seeing.

Additionally- China Southern Airlines started operations with a Sikorsky S-92 medium helicopter last June. The aircraft joins an existing fleet of S-76s. And by the end of 2010 Eurocopter had delivered six AS350 B3s to China. There are also 22 helicopters from the Super Puma family in China- growing to 27 by the end of 2011. Ten will be the newest EC225 version. Currently- there are more than 150 Eurocopter helicopters operating in China.

On the business jet scene- China’s MinSheng Financial Leasing Company has rapidly become a very popular name with western OEMs as it adds more and more business jets to its portfolio. MinSheng’s Business Aviation acquisition arm started ordering and leasing aircraft (to PRC nationals only) just over two years ago- and six aircraft have since been delivered.

It’s most recent announcement of 21 aircraft on order (worth around $1billion) and a 50 aircraft order backlog by the end of this year has kept it on track to meet ambitious plans of ‘100 aircraft ordered in five years’ – that’s about two and a half years time. Already delivered to MinSheng are; a Gulfstream G450- three Gulfstream G550s- a Dassault Falcon 7X and a Hawker 4000.

The 21 aircraft on order include three Gulfstream G450s- a Gulfstream GV- ten G550s- three Dassault Falcon 7Xs- two Hawker 4000s- a Hawker 900XP and a Global Express XRS. MinSheng’s most recent initiative is its plan to open-up a dedicated executive airport for Beijing. This would almost certainly be on an existing military airfield and it is believed there are two sights being checked for suitability. According to London-based David Tang- MinSheng’s chief Business Aviation advisor- the new specialist airport is needed as an alternative to Beijing Capital Airport which Tang says is far too busy- making getting slots very difficult. The pr

oject would be privately funded and have specialist FBOs and MROs as well as a flight training operation. Tang added- “The executive airport owner would be guaranteed business from MinSheng and the bank also needs an airport-base.”

Hawker Pacific’s joint venture with Shanghai Airport Authority to operate the FBO/MRO at Hongquiao Airport- China’s only dedicated Business Aviation airport- is starting to bear fruit according to Alan Smith CEO of Hawker Pacific. “Aircraft movements are exceeding our original business plan forecast and the mix of traffic is roughly 50% domestic- 50% international.

“The facility really has started to produce the sort of growth that we anticipated and I think that this represents a general snapshot of current Business Aviation in China-” Smith outlined. “Our MRO activity at the facility hasn’t officially started- but we’re quite a long way towards approval by the CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China).

“We’ve already recruited engineers and once approved- we will be a Hawker Beech Authorized Service Center and Dassault Falcon Jet approved. We are also in discussion with other OEMs to support their products in China. Currently we support AOG situations using mobile repair teams from our other operations in Asia that hold CAAC approvals.”

New aircraft sales to mainland Chinese customers are increasing so fast that aircraft management companies appear to be struggling to find the resources to operate them- added Smith. Through discussions with the OEMs the feeling is that this factor could inhibit the growth of sales.

“I think [aircraft sales] are definitely accelerating and the CAAC is very wisely ensuring that the situation doesn’t get out of hand by maintaining a safe and sensible growth rate-” he explained. “The CAAC is doing a good job of managing what is a relatively new segment of the aviation industry in China.”

New Chinese charter operator Donghai Jet of Shenzhen has placed a firm order for five Bombardier Challenger 300 business jets- valued at $121 million- to increase the company’s presence in the growing Chinese Business Aviation market. The Challenger 300s will join Donghai’s first Challenger 605- which was delivered last November. Donghai Jet also provides business jet maintenance.

TAG Aviation Asia Ltd.- and China First Mandarin Group (CFMG) of Shenyang are forming an alliance to capitalize on China’s expanding Business Aviation market. The partnership named TAG Aviation China will operate on CFMG’s Air Operator Certificate and CCAT145 repair station authority held by CFMG’s First Mandarin Business Aviation (FMBA) unit.

Final approval of the alliance will require governmental consents- which are anticipated early this year. FMBA’s Challenger 850 in ZYB Lily Jet (B-7697 delivered March 2010) colors flew into Airshow China in November. The company was founded in 2005 and is mainland China’s first private Business Aviation company certified by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

It has grown rapidly and currently owns and manages eight aircraft including Challenger 605s and the Challenger 850 for domestic and international charter business. TAG Aviation Asia was the second business jet operator to gain a Hong Kong AOC where its business is flourishing. AVIC’s Primus 100 and Primus 150 are names given to a pair of single-engined- carbon-composite fuselage light turboprops.

The six-seat Primus 100 will be powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-67A while the complementary Primus 150 will have a Honeywell TPE331-10. Both aircraft are based on the Epic LT and Escape designs. AVIC is also developing the Starlight 100 and Starlight 200 series of light jets. The sixseat Starlight 100 is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Canada PW600 engine while the eight-seat Starlight 200 will have a pair of Williams FJ33s. Both aircraft designs are based on the Epic Elite and Victory designs.

“The Business Aviation scene in India is busier than we anticipated and the last six to eight months have been very good for sales-” says Nigel Harwood- President and CEO of India’s InterGlobe General Aviation (IGGA)- a group company of InterGlobe Enterprises.

IGGA exclusively represents Hawker Beechcraft- Sikorsky Helicopters- Dornier Seaplane Company and Pacific Aerospace. IGGA’s latest orders include Beechcraft C90GTx- the latest upgrade in the C90 series; King Air B200s; Hawker 900XPs; and Hawker 4000s; plus a King Air B250 (Indian launch customer) scheduled for delivery in the third quarter.

Harwood is shy of giving detailed numbers- but says since the company commenced business in late 2007 his total turboprop and jet aircraft sales tally is close to 40 aircraft. “All orders are firm with deposits paid- and we hope to close two more deals by the end of March financial year.” He commented that quite a large number of people were upgrading from twin turboprops or small jets to larger jets.

Emerging markets in North East and Southern India are largely responsible for the upsurge says Harwood. “Customers that we always thought would buy business aircraft are finally making their purchases- although the lead-time has been a lot longer than we thought. There is still enormous potential for business aircraft sales in India and I believe growth will continue in double digit figures for the foreseeable future.”

According to Harwood- another major factor contributing to increased sales is that companies are setting up businesses in more rural parts of India at a much faster pace than even they previously had predicted.

“They’ve rapidly found the advantages of Business Aviation in improving management productivity. Some companies have chartered heavily over the last six months- including many newcomers - some of which are future potential buyers.”

The big news from ‘down-under’ is that Hawker Pacific Air Services has a new and major strategic investor - U.S. based SEACOR Holdings Inc. The deal was formalized in December when SEACOR acquired around 33% common equity (for around $25 million) in the Sydney head-quartered company.

Henrik von Platen- Hawker Pacific's Chairman- stated- “With SEACOR coming onboard we will gain a strong new investor and partner who shares our long-term philosophy and belief in the Asian market.”

“Hawker Pacific is a company with a long history and proven track record of success in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions-” added Charles Fabrikant- Executive Chairman of SEACOR Holdings Inc. “We believe its expansive footprint and strategic vision position it well to capitalize on these growing markets.”

Smith promised- “There will be strategic alliances between some of [SEACOR’s] other companies as there will shortly be some assimilation of some of their activities into Hawker Pacific.”

Hawker Pacific continues to look at opportunities in China- meanwhile- to widen its support network to new locations. Smith also confirmed that Hawker Pacific has expressed an interest in operating a new FBO/MRO at New Delhi International Airport.

In January Eurocopter South East Asia (ESEA) unveiled its brand new 8-200-square meter Singapore facility. The company is the first of the big western OEMs to move into brand new premises at the Seletar Aerospace Park airfield development.

Eurocopter says its facility provides a 25% increase in office space and a doubling of hangar capacity to support ESEA’s expansion in training services- MRO capabilities- research and development as well as design resources. The doubling of hangar space also significantly increases ESEA’s MRO capabilities.

Further- the new location offers an improved infrastructure for its training arm- the Singapore Helicopter Training Center (SHTC)- which has trained some 350 pilots and technicians annually for type rating- refresher- specific mission- and on-job training courses. SHTC will also provide training programs for regional college and university students as part of its talent development plan to groom a pool of future rotary-wing industry professionals.

Win Air Business Jet has become the first Taiwanese aviation company to specialize in leasing- charter and business aircraft trading. It gained its AOC last year and now operates a three-ship managed fleet comprising a Gulfstream GIVSP- G450 and G550.

CEO David H.J. Fei sees the Chinese charter market as a great business opportunity and is evaluating other OEM offerings for aircraft with ranges in excess of 3-000nm. The Taiwan Government’s 180 degree change of policy back in 2007 in favor of business aircraft ownership has made Fei’s business model possible.

“The policy is much more open-minded now-” he commented- adding that there are around 10 business aircraft currently on his country’s Civil Aircraft Register. Fei expects this to rise as more local owners opt to take their aircraft off foreign registers.

A ten-fold increase in the number of business aircraft registered in Japan is the priority of the 50 strong membership of the Japan Business Aviation Association (JBAA) says Kazuyuki Tamura its auditor. Currently there are around 50 business aircraft in the country including government aircraft. More Japanese companies continue to operate their business jets mainly on the N-Register says Tamura.

Amongst its many priorities the JBAA is pushing for business aircraft access to four of Tokyo’s military airfields. Its other priorities include gaining greater Business Aviation access to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport which is the second busiest in Asia- and the fourth busiest in the world.

Lobbying continues to gain 24 hour access to the airport- for eight slots (arrival or departure) to be available in day-time hours (and further extended to night-time). It also wants parking restrictions increased from five to seven days and no deadline for slot applications - which currently have to be made on the 15th of the month. The wish-list further includes having the opportunity to use advance vacant slots there- and should keep the JBAA busy for the immediate future.

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