A Hong Kong businessman was arrested after being suspected of trying to smuggle a helicopter into mainland China in what appears to be the first such case.
Border police in Xiamen, China's ninth busiest port, found helicopter parts in January, when they inspected 28 suspicious containers that the owner claimed to be carrying plastic waste, the Legal Daily reported on Monday. The Quanzhou People's Procuratorate in Fujian province is currently investigating the case.
The inspection revealed 4,957 bottles of liquor, 2,428 watches, 12 motorbikes, electronics and vehicle spare parts. Only after several days did police realise that the spare parts were for a helicopter.
The Italian two-seater helicopter had been ordered for HK$947,000 by a Zhuzhou, Hunan-based entrepreneur, surnamed Liu, the report said. He had hoped to hedge on the booming private aviation industry in China, while saving on import taxes. The Hong Kong middleman, surnamed Yao, has since been arrested in Quanzhou.
By the end of last year, mainland China had about 250 privately owned helicopters, according to government figures. That number is expected to increase when the country's armed forces review their regulations of low-altitude flights in major urban hubs by 2015.
In the coming decade, Chinese demand will require the import of an additional 1,000 helicopters, the world's largest helicopter maker Eurocopter estimated this year.
Two people were killed when a private helicopter crashed a week ago in Guangzhou. In May, a private helicopter operator saw one of its machines "hijacked" by a competiting company in a business dispute.