Eurocopter partner strategy wins China order

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The world's biggest civil helicopter builder Eurocopter, a subsidiary of European aerospace giant EADS, said Wednesday it has sold seven choppers to China as part of a new industrial alliance.

The European firm said the 150-million-euro ($195 million) deal to ship 11-tonne EC225 Super Puma helicopters to Chinese oil company COHC for offshore work would consolidate its lead in the Asian market.

COHC is based in Shenzhen and already operates several Eurocopter models. The EC225 will expand its reach, being able to carry 19 passengers more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) and can operate as an air-sea rescue chopper.

"With this new contract, COHC will further consolidate its leadership in China and Asia, positioning the company in the top 10 worldwide helicopter operations serving the oil and gas sector," Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling said.

Eurocopter was born in 1992 from a merger of French and German firms. It sold aircraft worth five billion euros this year, up from two billion 10 years ago, and expects to reach sales of eight billion euros by 2015.

It has a worldwide network of subsidiaries and has forged industrial alliances and even set up joint ventures with local partners in China and in South Korea, which develop their own models.

Avicopter, a joint venture between China's Avic and Eurocopter, is building a seven-tonne class helicopter which carries up to 16 passengers, the EC175. The first delivery is expected in 2012.

Also expected next year is the Surion, an 8.6-tonne troop carrier for the Korean army, which was developped by Korean Utility Helicopters, a joint venture between Eurocopter and Korea Aerospace Industries.

Eurocopter will commercialise the Surion overseas on behalf of KAI and wants to export it to Indonesia, Thailand and India.

"Cooperating with local partners is part of our DNA," Bertling told AFP in a recent interview.

Bertling gave several reasons for the policy of "going local," one of them being to work hand-in-hand with the customer to provide maintenance for these high-technology products.

"Becoming part of the industrial framework of a country opens access to additional government budgets", he pointed out.

"But it also gives us access to new engineering talent for the future. In Europe our talent pool is dwindling," he said. Eurocopter recruits in local universities and sends promising engineers to Germany for training.

In Asia, Bertling said "personal relationships count a lot and are worth more than the written contract.

"Asia is the fastest growing market and will be the largest market in the world," Bertling predicted.

Eurocopter expects to grow by 20 percent a year for the next five years in a region which accounts for nearly a quarter of its annual turnover.

"The growth potential is absolutely huge," said Norbert Ducrot, senior vice-president in charge of Asia sales.

"When the Koreans this year started looking for partners to build attack helicopters, everybody showed up," Ducrot said.

Eurocopter has 49 percent of civil and semi-public markets, such as police and rescue services, ahead of Italy's AgustaWestland, and 30 percent of the military market which is dominated by Americans Boeing, Bell and Sikorsky.

© 2011 AFP

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