July 23, 2012
Credit: Photo Credit: AVICOPTER
Bradley Perrett Beijing
Avicopter sees itself becoming one of the world's great helicopter makers, alongside the likes of Eurocopter. A rather large obstacle stands in its way, however: Western countries, the world's largest helicopter markets, do not recognize Chinese rotorcraft certifications.
Undeterred, the rotary-wing subsidiary of Avic has now at least received Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) type certificates for two helicopters this year. The latest is the AC311, a key product in the company's strategy. That aircraft and the other newly certified type, the three-engine AC313, are both heavily modified versions of French helicopters.
Certification of the AC311 came at least six months later than Avicopter expected last year. No reason for the delay has been given.
The development plan for the AC313 includes U.S. or European certification, says Xu Zhaoliang, the chief designer of the 13.8-metric-ton aircraft. Yet the difficulty in doing that illustrates the size of the obstacle in Avicopter's path.
A foreign authority could eventually recognize a Chinese helicopter certification, but only after reviewing and confirming the CAAC's expertise in airworthiness assessments. Certifications issued by the CAAC prior to that, including the AC313's, would not be recognized.
Reviewing and confirming an old foreign certification, issued under different standards, would be nearly impossible, says one Western industry official closely involved in airworthiness assessments. There is a way around the problem—redesigning the aircraft and putting it through a second certification process—but such a costly effort would be hard to justify if aimed only at widening a type's market.
Still, it is an effort that Avicopter has recently undergone for the AC313—and only for local approval. That may be a measure of the company's determination.