China signs deal to purchase 123 Airbus helicopters

Mon Jul 7, 2014 3:16pm EDT
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By Andreas Rinke and Tim Hepher

BEIJING/PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus Group NV's (AIR.PA: Quote) helicopter division sealed a $600 million deal on Monday to sell 123 helicopters to Chinese companies during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The orders, including both light single-engine helicopters from Airbus Helicopters' Ecureuil family and the light twin-engine EC135, are being placed by three Chinese general aviation service providers, the company said.

The deal is among the biggest since China recently relaxed restrictions on low-altitude flying in its mainly military-controlled airspace.

The easing of controls has fueled projections of a sharp increase of orders to fill a gap in one of the world's major untapped markets for helicopters and general aviation.

"We think these first sizeable contracts are signals that this market is starting to take off," said Guillaume Faury, chief executive of Airbus Helicopters.

"Today there are 350 civil helicopters flying in China. In Europe there are 10,0000 and in the U.S. there are 12,000. Therefore the market potential for helicopters in China is huge," he said in a telephone interview.

China currently buys about 50 helicopters a year out of an annual global market for 800 civilian helicopters, according to estimates by Airbus Helicopters, formerly known as Eurocopter.

By 2020, its purchases are expected to quadruple to 200 a year and by then, instead of 6-7 percent of the global market, it is expected to make up 20 percent of demand, Faury said.   Continued...

The logo of Airbus Group, Europe's largest aerospace group, is pictured in front of the company headquarters building in Ottobrunn, near Munich February 26, 2014.  REUTERS/Michaela Rehle