Thales bets on China’s helicopter industry growth

Thales is aiming at 2020 to start operations at the joint venture it wants to establish with Avicopter in China for a helicopter pilot training center.

Avicopter will supply AC312, AC313 and AC352 data for Thales to design flight simulators. Thales Photo
Avicopter will supply AC312, AC313 and AC352 data for Thales to design flight simulators. Thales Photo
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As the memorandum of understanding was signed on Nov. 6, “we are just beginning,” said Benoit Plantier, Thales vice president, training and simulation activities. Nevertheless, he suggests the joint venture may be incorporated in 2019 and activity may commence the year after.

The share of each partner in the company is not determined yet, but “the objective is for it to be balanced,” he said. Thales has suggested the joint venture with Avicopter may be structured along the same lines as Helisim. The latter company, based in Marignane, France, is a joint venture and Airbus Helicopters and Thales are the main shareholders.

Avicopter will provide Thales with data to design flight simulators for three types – the AC312, AC313 and AC352. The AC312 medium twin resembles the Airbus AS365 Dauphin, and the heavy AC313 looks like the SA 321 Super Frelon, as Avicopter and its predecessors have benefited from licenses issued by the European manufacturer. The AC352 is the Chinese version of the Airbus H175 — a joint program.

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Given slower-than-hoped growth for China’s helicopter operator industry, is Thales investing too early? “We might be one to three years too early, but we must be ready before the market starts actually growing — and once started, it will be fast,” said Plantier. “Once the market [is] established and the players [are] in place, it will be too late.”

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