July 10, 2012
AgustaWestland is turning its attention to setting up training and support bases in China after suspending talks for private assembly of its helicopters in the country.
The company is not ruling out the possibility of eventually coming to an agreement with Chongqing Helicopter over assembly of AgustaWestland helicopters. But, in the meantime, an opportunity exists to train more of the pilots and other specialists who will be needed if manufacturers are to fully exploit the market.
Manufacturers 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 sends students abroad, notably to the U.S. That restricts the supply further, because the students must have adequate English skills.
“AgustaWestland thinks that having a training center in China with Chinese instructors is a must. We are starting to think about that, but we have some ideas,” says Fulvio Maurogiovanni, the company’s senior vice president for China. “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.
More AgustaWestland service centers will have to be scattered around the country, too. The company has one at Jingdezhen, where it assembles AW109s in partnership with the Changhe unit of Avic group rotary wing specialist Avicopter. It also has one in Macau, not part of mainland China. That will not be enough for the expected future fleet of AgustaWestland helicopters . There are 47 of them now operating in mainland China and Hong Kong.
Chongqing Helicopter and AgustaWestland last year proposed joint assembly of an unnamed helicopter at the 130-hectare (320 acre) site that the Chinese company had acquired for its planned manufacturing base.
But AgustaWestland was unable to meet the ambitions of the Chongqing company, says Maurogiovanni. Chongqing Helicopter wanted to assemble an AgustaWestland type for international sales as well as for China, and it wanted to assemble or build helicopters for other manufacturers, too.