January 21, 2013
Credit: Credit: Enstrom
Tony Osborne London
Enstrom Helicopter is the latest general aviation manufacturer to be taken over by Chinese investors as the country paves its way toward more open skies.
The Michigan-based manufacturer joins a long list of light aircraft companies being snapped up by China's vast industrial complex in expectation of the demand for general aviation likely to come from the long-awaited deregulation of China's airspace. But the Enstrom deal is more significant than it might seem at first glance.
The deal by Chongqing Helicopter Investment Co. (CQHIC), believed to be worth $60 million, represents the first Chinese takeover of an entire helicopter manufacturer. For decades, Chinese industry has been working closely in partnership with Western helicopter firms to build knowledge and experience. While in a bid to get closer to the market, companies like Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Bell have opened final assembly lines for select products in the country.
But many of these partnerships have formed in conjunction with, or under the watchful eye of, state-owned manufacturer Aviation Industry Corp. of China (Avic). Chongqing's purchase of Enstrom means that China now has a second helicopter manufacturer, under private ownership without the constraints and red-tape imposed by the state, albeit sitting on U.S. soil.
The buy also gives ambitious Chongqing real insight and experience in helicopter production, the general aviation industry and selling to customers outside China. Chinese airworthiness standards and certification levels are little recognized outside of the country, which makes sales of Chinese-built helicopters to those not aligned with the country simply an aspiration, at least for now.
CQHIC is no stranger to Western companies. In 2011, shortly after it was formed, the investment group signed a memorandum of understanding with AgustaWestland in the hope of producing the manufacturer's helicopters locally. But the two parties broke off discussions and the project appears to have fallen by the wayside.
For Enstrom, very little will change. The company has been owned by foreign parties for much of its 50-year history. CEO Jerry Mullins and his team did not have much to do with the takeover process, which simply saw Enstrom transferred from its previous owner, an anonymous Swiss investor.