Region VII: Middle East/Asia (MID)

Bookmark and Share

Helicopters Prominent in China’s Acceptance of General Aviation

May 17, 2012

An infant in the Chinese town of Shantou needs emergency medical care for a life threatening congenital heart disease. That kind of treatment for one so young isn’t available in Shantou, so to save her life, the parents of this five-month-old girl have to get her to the provincial capital of Guangdong.

By car, it’s a rough overland journey of more than six hours, and doctors at the People’s Hospital of Guangdong decide there’s not enough time for that. In a civilian helicopter, the journey takes less than two hours.

In the United States, this would have been a routine medical case, hardly newsworthy. But in China, it was a milestone in the ongoing effort to introduce the routine use of civilian aircraft.

“The fact they’re going to establish emergency medical service operations clearly indicates the Chinese recognize the value of helicopters and their abilities to serve all aspects of society,” said Matt Zuccaro, president and CEO of Helicopter Association International (HAI).

China has made it a priority to weave general aviation into the nation’s transportation infrastructure as part of the government’s five-year plan. Last year, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s counterpart in China organized a first-of-its-kind convention in Beijing, one that would have included a helicopter migration from a town east of the capital. But when an unrelated aviation accident involving a Beijing police helicopter killed five people, the event was canceled because of what observers noted was the government’s sense of supreme caution.

Earlier this year, two Beijing Capital Helicopter Company rotorcraft were used in a disaster drill to showcase their life-saving capabilities. In the simulation, one of the aircraft flew a boy from Zhangjiakou in Hebei Province, to a hospital in Beijing. The trip would have taken more than three hours by road. By air, it took 41 minutes. Officials declared the experiment a success.

Recently, Beijing Capital Helicopter signed an agreement with Shanghai Gaodong Airport, a new heliport near Pudong that HAI’s Zuccaro said is breathtaking to behold.

“There’s a four-story building with a control tower on top of it and a very substantial hangar adjacent to it – all dedicated solely to helicopters,” the HAI president remarked. “I tell you, if that isn’t optimistic about what’s going to happen with helicopters in China, I don’t know what is.”

Beijing Capital will begin operating aircraft from the facility later this month, according to reports published in China.

“The initiative of some of the manufacturers has played a significant role” in the rapid development of flight-based medical services in China, Zuccaro explained. “They’re providing education and guidance.”

He also credited the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition, held in Shanghai earlier this year, with increasing the appreciation for general aviation in China.

Already, helicopter operations are ramping up with remarkable speed in some parts of the country. In Shanghai, four hospitals now have helipads. In Guangdong Province, authorities are building new facilities to accommodate rotorcraft and drafting new regulations that allow for their use.

However, the costs associated with such flights is a concern. For example, the expense of flying the infant girl from Shantou to Guangdong was an estimated $1,586. In the Beijing disaster drill, the cost was 10 times that amount. While Chinese authorities appear convinced about the value of medical helicopter operations, finding ways to finance them in this developing market may be a challenge.