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Chinese firm buys two new helicopters from US' Bell

Updated : 2014-03-05

By ( chinadaily.com.cn )

China's Beidahuang Group is buying two helicopters from US-based manufacturer Bell Helicopter (BH), a move that underscores increasing interest by Chinese companies to use private aircraft in their businesses, according to a Bell official.

Chris Jaran, managing director for BH in China, said the versatility of Bell's rotary-wing aircraft (rotorcraft) is a major selling point for the company's business prospects in an emerging market.

"As the rotorcraft industry continues to advance in China, our customers are looking at the aircraft as a means to improve the productivity of their business," Jaran said in a Feb 27 press release announcing the deal. "The Beidahuang Group is one such customer who came to us with a specific need that we were able to fulfill through the versatility of the Bell 407GX."

The agreement calls for the Bell 407 helicopters to be used to assist with agricultural work like crop management, seeding and fertilization.

There were only 298 privately owned helicopters in China in 2012, according to the latest figures from the Chinese Aircraft Registry, compared with 10,102 tallied by the Federal Aviation Administration in the same year in the US.

Founded in 1935, Bell Helicopter is a subsidiary of Textron Inc and provides helicopter training and support services in more than 120 countries.

Textron - a multi-industry company based in Providence, Rhode Island, with holdings in aircraft, defense, industrial and finance businesses - ranks 225th on the Fortune 500 list of America's largest corporations.

Beidahuang Group, which is headquartered in Harbin, Heilongjian province, operates a conglomerate of Chinese state-owned agribusinesses. Beidahuang General Aviation Co, a subsidiary of the larger group, has been in operation since 1985 and operates more than 50 fixed-wing aircraft.

Guo Qingcai, general manager of Beidahuang Aviation, said the Bell 407, which will be the Beidahuang fleet's first rotorcraft, was chosen because of its "excellent multi-mission capability".

"We will use the two aircraft primarily for agriculture operations," Guo said in a Feb 27 press release. "However, we see potential in numerous other markets and will expand their mission portfolio as we expand our capabilities."

The deal with Beidahuang is Bell's latest development in its relationship with the world's second-largest economy.

Bell has established two customer service facilities in China, including one in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, that are authorized to provide support and maintenance for Bell aircraft.

On Feb 14, Bell announced the sale of two Bell 407 and two Bell 412 aircraft to the Chongqing General Aviation Co. The four aircraft purchased by Chongqing will be used in search-and-rescue operations, as well as firefighting missions.

Gong Wei, chairman of the Chongqing General Aviation Co, said the name "Bell Helicopter is synonymous with quality, capability and support".

John Nance, an aviation analyst for ABC News and Good Morning America, said while the aviation industry in China has made some significant strides in past decades the need for a thorough understanding of stick and rotor flying remains essential.

"China absolutely has to look outside the shores of the country to understand stick and rotor flying," Nance said.

Plans to open airspace up to 4,000 meters are part of China's current Five-Year Plan, and should be in place by 2020, according to Bell.

Sara Monger, a representative for Hurst, Texas-based Bell, said that the firm's products are "well-suited to the Chinese market".

"As the Chinese flight industry begins to grow, safety is paramount," Monger said.

"The Chinese programs are a new venture for us, and something we're continuing to look at in terms of expanding in that market," she added.