People celebrate near an Airbus A330neo aircraft after its maiden flight event in Colomiers near Toulouse, France. [Photo/Agencies]
European aerospace giant Airbus has strengthened ties with China by becoming the first foreign helicopter manufacturer with an assembly line there.
"In the coming years, we are looking forward to seeing dozens of H135s flying over Shandong and Qingdao to save lives, assist police, and guide ships," said Dr Wolfgang Schoder, CEO of Airbus Helicopters Germany.
The inauguration of the Airbus Qingdao H135 Final Assembly Line (FAL) in the coastal city of Qingdao, East China's Shandong province, on April 17 opened a new chapter in China-Europe cooperation, said senior Airbus Helicopters officials.
Closer to China
"The Qingdao project follows intensive and ultimately hard work of Airbus and Chinese partners since 2015," Schoder said that, the first helicopter is expected to roll off the line later this year, and the initial annual capacity is 18 helicopters.
It is the first FAL facility of the popular Airbus H135 helicopter outside Europe, and the second Airbus FAL in China after the Airbus Tianjin A320 FAL, which started operating in 2008.
To date, about 1,300 twin-engine H135s are already operating around the world.
The Qingdao plant follows a cooperation agreement between Airbus Helicopters and China in 2016 for the purchase of 100 H135s.
"The new FAL takes us closer to our customers and potential customers in this promising market, to better serve and support them in operations, as well as sensing the market dynamics," said Marie-Agnes Veve, general manager of Airbus Helicopters China.
"We've always moved with Chinese partners on new projects to inject impetus into China's aviation industry," Veve said.
Safety is key
The Qingdao plant is an extension of the Airbus production facilities in Germany, where most of the Qingdao line staff received on-the-job training.
Forty professionals work on the line, including eight Airbus experts in production support.
In March, the Qingdao plant received its production certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which ensures helicopters from the line are the same as those from Europe and covers every level of quality and safety, Schoder said.
The finished helicopters will undergo strict testing on the ground and in the air before delivery.
"All working procedures and standards here in Qingdao strictly follow the Airbus Helicopters way in Europe. Safety and quality is something we will never compromise," said Pierre-Antoine Aubourg, general manager of the Qingdao FAL.
"Besides the production sector, we also support our customers and potential customers with better training, as well offer a hand in management and cultivating professional teams," he added.
Most promising market
"China is the world's fastest growing helicopter market with an impressive two digits annual increase in recent years," Aubourg said. "China is also the most promising market with great potential."
About 300 Airbus helicopters already fly in China, covering almost all Airbus Helicopters products, including light single-engine, light twin-engine, medium-size to medium-heavy models.
The Airbus market share in China is around 37 percent.
China has positioned general aviation as a strategic emerging industry. By 2020, the general aircraft fleet in China is expected to reach 5,000 with 2 million annual total flight hours.
Helicopters play crucial and indispensable roles in areas such as firefighting, law enforcement, emergency medical rescue and urban aerial mobility, and help to drive social development and economic growth.
China has been moving forward continuously to improve flight approval procedures and is building more airports for general aircraft use.
"With continuous support and contributions from all sides, I believe our cooperation with China will be a great success and helicopters will play an important and inseparable role in China's future development," Schoder said.