“I would just love to do something in China without Avic,” says a Western industry executive who has long experience in working with the group and thinks a private partner would be much more efficient, providing it could find skilled staff. Avic and state commercial aircraft builder Comac employ the great majority of Chinese aircraft manufacturing personnel.
The opportunity to try manufacturing or assembly of aircraft in China without Avic may not be available at Chongqing, however. Two industry executives say Avic may become involved in Chongqing Helicopter. According to one, Chongqing Helicopter has always wanted some association with the state group, presumably to gain access to skilled workers and managers and political clout.
Avic is trying hard to improve its efficiency, but Western executives—many from enormous companies that are hardly free of bureaucracy—express frustration at the slow decision-making and management infighting of the state group. Officials in Western companies are also sure that a private partner would use labor and capital much more efficiently, driving down costs.
While the Chongqing talks are suspended, AgustaWestland is turning its attention to an obvious opportunity in training more of the pilots and other specialists that will be needed if it and other manufacturers are to fully exploit the market.
Aircraft makers and operators say the shortage of trained people will restrict growth even as the Chinese air force loosens its grip on low-altitude airspace, opening up a great potential market for rotorcraft. Since China has few civil helicopter pilot schools, the industry has to send students abroad, notably to the U.S. That restricts the supply further, because the students must have adequate English.
“AgustaWestland thinks that having a training center in China with Chinese instructors is a must,” says Maurogiovanni. “We want to build a network of service centers and a training center.”
Not just pilots and ground technicians are needed; rescue helicopters must have skilled operators for their equipment, such as winches. Again, in China the supply of personnel with such training is tight.