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China Helicopter Expo September 2011

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Helicopters will become a huge part of the future of China, Luviair wants to be a part of this exciting development by offering our Luxury VIP aviation management service to the country. Our model will not change from our existing core business interest of specialising in helicopters aboard Luxury yachts and for high net worth individuals.

To begin to understand how this adventure is going to develop I decided to exhibit at the first Chinese Helicopter Exposition held in Tianjin to the South of Beijing between the 15th and 18th September 2011.

Tianjin was chosen to host the gathering because of its importance as being the principle centre of Civil Aviation Investment in China. Both Airbus and Eurocopter have significant manufacturing facilities on the large industrial park that makes up the centre piece of China’s Civil aviation ambition.

The sky above Chine is not yet open for commercial rotary wing aviation. There are areas where helicopters may operate but for the majority of the country, especially those areas where the military has important bases low level aviation still remains a dream.

But the feeling you have is that this dream will become reality. The Chinese Civil Aviation Authority is very keen to see this change and it will be the pressure from Government and the consumer that drives the future of low level air space. The military undoubtedly will have to be comfortable with what ever solution is found but this is the same as in other parts of the world. When that is achieved then the opportunities for helicopter operations will really develop. It was comforting to see the military well represented amongst the VIP’s at the beginning of this first civilian helicopter exposition.

The show was well organised and allowed China aviation to show off some of its products in collaboration with its partners.

Manufacturers showing at the show included Eurocopter, Sikorsky, Agusta Westland and Robinson. Eurocopter China a wholly owned Chinese subsidiary will produce the equivalent of the EC120 and EC175 helicopters in China.

Whilst supplying the helicopters to this market will be a challenge, a perhaps even greater challenge will be the whole infrastructure required in aviation; aircrew operators, maintenance organisations, airports and heliports. To varying degrees there is evidence all are being addressed by direct investment. I was pleased to see that there are already many building that appear to have roof top helipad facilities in place or planned. Airports are springing up all over China and there is plenty of evidence to suggest these will be supportive of general aviation given the chance. A net work of FBO’s for private aviation is also starting to develop.

Maintenance – Where will the maintenance be done? In my view it has to be done eventually in China purely because of the practicality associated with the distances helicopters fly. So where are these centres going to be and what will manufacturers put in place as factory support. Eurocopter again appears to be leading with planned part 145 maintenance facilities and support.

The challenge to produce Chinese pilots is already significant. There are very few non military Chinese licensed helicopter pilots at the moment. Of course this will change but the demand will also continue to grow. At the moment the instructors in China are few and far between. I did however have the good fortune to meet a young instructor from Switzerland at the show who has gone through the process of taking his written Chinese exams and has eventually been awarded his Chinese licence and is able to instruct. The licensing process is very much based upon that of the United States of America and the influence of the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is very clear.

As the licensing system evolves there will be change but it is interesting to see how this aircrew licensing topic has begun to evolve in China. Training schools and operating companies are investing heavily in the training of pilots. They are paying for this training and then as an organisation they have the relationship with the authorities as far as the licences of the pilots are concerned. This works to the operators benefit in that the pilot cannot leave his employment without the consent of the operator as it is the operator that physically holds the pilots licence. Until an agreed return of service has been undertaken the pilot works for the company that trains him. A bond with a difference ….I was told that if a pilot really wants to leave then he may buy his way out but the numbers I was told were close to 1 million RMB (115,000 Euros)

This need to train pilots has to be seen as an opportunity not only for domestic training organisations but also for those overseas, particularly in the United States of America. It was interesting to see a number of foreign training organisations from Europe and the United States at the show. They recognise the potential in the market. Pilots training outside China will be coming back with either American or European licences. It will be interesting to understand how easily the validation process might take place from a US license to a Chinese one or whether the Chinese exams will have to be retaken.

The VIP Market.

Luviair’s prime interest is in the luxury VIP market There are already over 1,500 Chinese people with personal fortunes exceeding 1 Billion RMB (US$150 + Million). This is a number that is growing. They have wholly embraced the luxury consumerism of real estate and cars. They are now investing in Private Jets, luxury yachts and helicopters. The market will need to be ready to support them. It will also be interesting to see how China’s super rich maintain a balance, the harmony that the Chinese state is so keen to protect amongst its populous.

The week spent in China was an exciting opportunity to be a part of the first China Helicopter exposition. The event was well attended and there was great enthusiasm on the part of the Chinese with regard to what will undoubtedly happen, a significant helicopter industry.

Luviair is excited by the opportunities presented and I will be both watching and actively pursuing closely the development, so that we can become a part of this exciting future.

Nigel Watson
Luviair Ltd

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