Airbus first established an official presence in China in 1994. Since then, rapid growth has been the hallmark of Airbus’ Chinese operations, with the company having expanded its number of commercial jetliners sold to the country by a factor of 50 in less than two decades. The company delivered its 1,000th commercial jetliner in 2013 and aims to reach its 2,000th by 2020, pushing its market share above 50%.
With the fast development of its aerospace and aviation industry, China is on track to become the world’s largest aviation market and it is already a major customer of Airbus products, with Chinese deliveries representing nearly a quarter of the company’s global commercial aircraft production.
Airbus values not only its relationship with airlines and helicopter operators in China, it also appreciates the enormous value offered by Chinese industry; components produced by Chinese companies are currently found on all production Airbus commercial jetliner types. The total value of the Airbus and Chinese cooperation reached around $500 million in 2015.
Beyond its role as both customer and supplier, China is a strategic partner as well, as evidenced by the fact that Airbus’ first final assembly line, or FAL, outside the borders of its four founding European countries was opened in the city of Tianjin in 2008. This FAL produces the A320 single-aisle family of passenger aircraft, and was joined by a Completion and Delivery Centre in 2017 for the A330, marking Airbus’ first widebody jetliner centre outside of its founding countries.
By late 2017, there were more than 1,500 Airbus commercial jetliners in service in China, and deliveries to the country represent nearly a quarter of Airbus’ total jetliner production. Helping make this possible are more than 1,900 employees in China that work for Airbus and its joint ventures on commercial aircraft in multiple locations across the country.
Many of these employees work at the final assembly line in Tianjin. Opened in 2008, the Chinese FAL is a joint venture between Airbus and a consortium of Tianjin Free Trade Zone (TJFTZ) and China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC).
As part of this framework, a new Airbus A330 Completion and Delivery Centre (C&DC) in Tianjin was inaugurated in 2017. The C&DC, co-located at the same site as the A320 Family FAL and the Airbus Tianjin Delivery Centre, is Airbus’ first widebody centre outside of Europe. The facility performs A330 completion activities that include cabin installation, aircraft painting, production flight tests, customer acceptance and aircraft delivery.
Airbus has been China’s No. 1 helicopter partner for more than 50 years, a long-lasting relationship that began in 1967 with the delivery of an Alouette III rotorcraft. Airbus’ helicopter division is the leader in China with a 40% market share as of late 2017.
In June 2016, a Chinese consortium ordered 100 H135 light-twin utility helicopters in an agreement that included the construction of an H135 final assembly line (FAL) in Qingdao, Shandong province. Construction began in May, 2017 for what will become the first H135 FAL outside of Europe, as well as the first helicopter final assembly in the country established by a Western helicopter manufacturer.
The historic FAL agreement builds on the joint development effort involving Airbus and China’s Avicopter for the H175 medium utility helicopter. Based on an agreement signed in 2014, more than 1,000 of these rotorcraft are envisioned for production over a 20-year timeframe, with the twin-engine helicopter being produced at Airbus’ facility in Marignane, France and in the city of Harbin in northeast China.
As of late 2017, Airbus had offices in seven different locations in China for its helicopter-related activities, including a regional customer service centre and logistics platform at Hong Kong airport. Airbus is also one of the major shareholders of CGAMEC, a maintenance company based in Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong, that handles the company’s helicopter maintenance, repair and overhaul activities in China.
A full flight simulator for the H225 – a member of Airbus’ well known Super Puma helicopter family – was installed in 2012 within the Airbus Hua-Ou training centre in Beijing.
Airbus has forged valuable links with a variety of companies to help it provide better service to a growing local customer base in several areas, while adhering to limitations on military technology.
The company has won a number of major contracts in the field of radio communication systems, including providing integrated solutions that guaranteed the security of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Airbus has also deployed TETRA radio systems in airports and metro lines across the country.
Airbus has been an engaged participant in China’s use of space for Earth observation. The company has also worked with a private partner, Beijing Eastdawn Information Technology (which itself is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences), to distribute satellite imagery and software to government agencies and other customers.
With headquarters half a world away, Airbus recognises the value that strong partnerships with local Chinese companies provides. A sampling of these partnerships includes a composite manufacturing centre in Harbin, while in Beijing alone, there is an engineering centre; a customer support centre that can dispatch some 25,000 spare parts to airlines in the Asia-Pacific region; and a training centre with five full flight simulators for the A320 and A330/A340 jetliner families and the H225 helicopter.
China is poised to become the world’s largest aviation market in the future, and Airbus is committed to being there every step of the way. The company aims to reach 2,000 aircraft delivered to the country by 2020, pushing its market share above 50%.
Recent reforms passed in China will help open lower-altitude airspace in the coming years, handing flight control from the military to civil aviation authorities. With only 900 or so civil helicopters in service in the whole of China (as of late 2017), this will lead to tremendous possibilities for growth; Airbus is well positioned to help put the country on the path to become the world’s largest rotorcraft market with more than 150 deliveries per year expected by 2020.
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