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The Asia-Pacific region has the fastest growth in the helicopter market, but hopes for strong expansion in China are slow to materialize, industry experts told seminar attendees at Helitech International 2018 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
“Asia-Pacific is really the growth region,” said Ben Chapman, valuation manager, Flight Ascend Consultancy, during a session on global market trends. And the growth rate of mainland China’s fleet, at 17 percent last year, “dwarfs anything else in the region,” added Fabian Graebner, sales and commercial manager in Asia-Pacific for Waypoint Leasing. The company has moved its bureau from Singapore to Hong Kong to be closer to China. According to Waypoint, the Chinese civil helicopter fleet stands at 581. That number means, however, the increase is modest if measured in units.
Even so, whether this growth rate can be maintained is still to be determined. The Chinese government is not delivering on its repeated promises to open the country’s lower airspace, which is still largely controlled by the military. It appears to want to control the speed at which the industry is changing, said Nadav Kessler, director, sales and business development for Honk Kong consultancy Asian Sky Group.
“There was a big hype in EMS [emergency medical services] a while ago, but operators realized airspace would not open as fast as expected,” said Kessler.
EMS consists mainly of inter-hospital transfers, Graebner noted. He suggested the fleet might grow to 100 EMS helicopters in 2018, from 47 in 2017, and 20 in 2016. The offshore fleet is unchanged from 2016, at 63.
While light singles are the most popular category of aircraft in China, Waypoint has seen some recent activity with the Airbus H225. The type has otherwise been struggling to find civil applications since a months-long grounding in 2016. In China, it has been used in firefighting and utility roles, according to Waypoint. For an H225, Chinese customers are ready to pay more than a European customer, Chapman pointed out.
Overall, the Chinese market is maturing and a number of helicopters that came into the country on speculative grounds are now finding a home. Investors – as opposed to operators and end users – bought large quantities of helicopters a few years ago, Kessler explained. After having waited for a mission, they are now being used, he added.