Airbus has begun building its first helicopter assembly plant in China, and the European planemaker plans to produce 18 machines a year there in hopes the country will soon open up its low-altitude airspace.
China currently has a shortage of civilian helicopters for emergency medical purposes and other uses due to the military's tight control over the nation's airspace.
Airbus Helicopters plans to complete its plant in the eastern port city of Qingdao at the end of next year.
The first helicopter is scheduled to be delivered in mid-2019, its president Guillaume Faury said during the laying of the foundation stone on May 28.
The plant will be the first by a foreign helicopter manufacturer on Chinese soil, he said. It will be jointly operated by Airbus Helicopters and Qingdao United General Aviation Company.
Airbus also has an aircraft assembly plant in the northeastern city of Tianjin, which it opened in 2008.
A letter of intent for a 750-million euro ($800 million) deal, involving the sale of 100 H135 helicopters to China and the construction of the assembly plant, was signed during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015.
Airbus Helicopters saw its revenues fall by two per cent last year but is counting on China to boost sales.
The country became its top market last year, with 48 of the 100 helicopters which China bought last year coming from Airbus.
China has a fleet of only 800 helicopters, compared with 8,000 in Europe and 12,000 in the United States, so the potential for growth is vast, said Vincent Dufour, Airbus Helicopters' sales director in the country.
The Chinese market is still hampered by military controls over airspace. Airbus hopes this will gradually be relaxed as was partially done in the late 1990s for commercial airplane flights.
The versatile twin-engine H135 machines are often deployed for emergency medical services and Airbus says this is its initial market.
But the aircraft maker also plans later to sell units to Chinese police for surveillance purposes.
Such a sale would not contravene the embargo on arms sales to China, said Faury.
"It's not our policy to sell military products in China," he said.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2017