The Airbus Qingdao H135 Final Assembly Line (FAL), the first helicopter line built by a foreign manufacturer in China, was put into service Wednesday in Qingdao, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province.
It is the first time of Airbus has put final assembly facilities of the H135 helicopter outside Europe. The move marked a new chapter in Sino-European cooperation and Airbus' expanded partnership with China, according to Airbus.
The first helicopter roll-out from the assembly line is expected to take place in the second half of 2019.
"China is the most promising helicopter market in the world. That is the best way Airbus to address our continued commitment and determination to deepen the cooperation with Chinese partners," said Marie-Agnes Veve, general manager of Airbus Helicopters China.
The Airbus Qingdao H135 FAL is a joint venture between Airbus Helicopters and United General Aviation Company. It follows a cooperation agreement between Airbus Helicopters and China in 2016 for the purchase of 100 H135s.
The initial annual production capacity is 18 helicopters. And the FAL capacity could be doubled to meet growing Chinese demand.
The H135 light twin-engine helicopter is a popular model. It can be used for helicopter emergency medical service missions, search and rescue, law enforcement, firefighting and tourism.
To date, about 1,300 helicopters of the H135 family are in operation around the world, with a total of more than 5 million flight hours.
"Qingdao is one of China's major coastal economic cities with strong and complete industrial foundation, as well as abundant talent with professional skills," said Meng Fanli, mayor of Qingdao.
In 2017, Qingdao decided to create a helicopter application demonstration city.
"The inauguration of the Airbus Qingdao H135 project will surely facilitate Qingdao to generate aviation-related resources and talent worldwide," Meng said.
Covering 6,500 square meters, the Airbus Qingdao H135 FAL site is in the Jimo district of Qingdao. It has four work stations, a paint booth, ground and flight test areas, and a delivery center.
The main components of H135 helicopters, including the fuselage, gearbox kits and rear fuselage, will be shipped to Qingdao from Donauworth, Germany and Albacete, Spain, respectively.
Around 40 staff are working at the assembly line -- eight are Airbus experts and the others Chinese.
Most of the Chinese staff are local professionals who have received on-the-job training in Germany. They will conduct the final assembly of H135 helicopters at the site.
Then work such as the ground tests, flight inspections and flight tests will also be conducted here before delivery to Chinese customers.
"In the coming years, we are looking forward to seeing dozens of H135s flying around China to save people's lives, assist police and guide ships. We will then be very proud to see them serving China's community," said Wolfgang Schoder, CEO of Airbus Helicopters Germany.
Airbus Helicopters is a key player in China's helicopter market, with market share of around 40 percent. There are about 300 Airbus helicopters serving the Chinese market.