Bell Helicopter aims to triple China fleet despite simmering trade tension with the US

Jacinto Monge, head of Bell in China, says Beijing’s 25 per cent punitive tariffs of US aircraft imports do not affect its sales in the country

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2018, 9:18am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 April, 2018, 6:07pm

Bell Helicopter of the US foresees another dynamic year for its business in China and is hoping that the two countries can resolve the ongoing trade tension.

Jacinto Monge, chief executive of Bell Helicopter China, told the South China Morning Post that further deregulation of China’s low-altitude airspace control will usher in greater opportunities for international companies even as the country’s fleet of commercial helicopters doubled over the past five years.

“We hope the two governments can come down to a solution that will enable the future growth of the industry,” Monge said. “I think 2018 is still going to be a vibrant year.”

Bell Helicopter, a unit of aviation conglomerate Textron, secured 200 orders from China last year and is well on its way to tripling its fleet in the world’s fastest-growing commercial helicopter market.

The current Bell helicopter fleet in China stands at 110.

Monge said that Bell Helicopter China will continue to post buoyant growth in the next five years.

The trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies has seen Beijing target a generation of Boeing’s 737 jetliners as it threatened a levy of 25 per cent punitive tariff in early April.

“Those do not affect our products,” said Monge. “We got some [new orders] in the pipeline.”

The threatened 25 per cent levy on US-made aircraft is believed to target a generation of Boeing’s 737 jetliners, but the newer 737 Max are exempt, a sign that Beijing is still avoiding a major impact on Boeing, according to analysts.

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China is the bright spot in the global market as the country’s medical service, rescue mission operators, firefighters and public utility companies show strong demand for commercial helicopters.

Established international aircraft makers, including Bell, are the key beneficiaries of the fast-growing market as mainland authorities, state-owned businesses and super-rich individuals resort to their products for rescue operations, power line inspections and leisure travel.

Most Bell’s helicopters are for industrial use in China, with about 20 per cent of its fleet used for corporate purposes, Monge said.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross witnessed a signing of agreement between Bell and Reignwood International Investment Group in Beijing last November during US President Donald Trump’s trade mission to China.

Reignwood, the exclusive reseller for the Bell 505s in China, bought an additional 50 helicopters following an initial order of 60 units in April last year.

The Asia-Pacific region that includes China, accounted for 14 per cent of Bell’s total revenue, the second-largest revenue contributor after the US.

But China is growing faster than any other market worldwide, said Monge.

The country’s home-grown makers of commercial helicopters are still not strong enough to compete against global industry leaders.

Last year, Rostec, the Russian state-owned conglomerate co-developing a long-haul widebody aircraft with China, said it was working with Aviation Industry Corp of China’s general aviation unit Avicopter to jointly make heavy-duty helicopters.

Earlier this month, Bell Helicopter appointed China Southern Airlines General Aviation as an authorised maintenance partner for the Bell 407 in China.