Aviation companies have demonstrated their confidence in the Chinese market at the ongoing China International Import Expo, with Airbus looking to capitalize on opportunities in helicopter emergency medical services.
In his keynote speech at CIIE's opening ceremony on Monday, President Xi Jinping said China's imports of goods are expected to exceed $200 trillion in the next 15 years, with imports of services tipped to top $10 trillion.
The next day, a deal worth more than 10 billion yuan ($1.44 billion) was signed between China Eastern Airlines, which is based in Shanghai, and British engineering giant Rolls-Royce for Trent XWB jet engines and longterm maintenance services.
Ben Story, Rolls-Royce's strategic marketing director, said the agreement involves China Eastern's 20 Airbus A3200 XWB aircraft and is part of more than $2 billion worth of contracts, agreements and memorandums of understanding signed between Rolls-Royce and major Chinese airlines at CIIE.
The company expects to sign more than a dozen deals with multiple customers at the expo across all its business sectors, including civil aerospace and power systems.
Story said CIIE is a sign of the growing maturity of China's economy as the country seeks to better balance imports and exports, along with recognition of its status as a key market, and a demonstration of its openness to trade.
"So there are really positive signs and symbols coming out of this," he said. "In the longer term, it's such a good way to really build our presence here, to build our capability here, to build our relationships here."
China is Rolls-Royce's fastest-growing market and became its second-largest market after the United States last year, contributing 12 percent of the group's 15 billion pounds ($19.69 billion) global revenue. Its businesses in China cover the civil aerospace, marine, power systems and civil nuclear sectors.
"I want China to be one of the key pillars of the whole organization, where we find some of the best talent, best capabilities for the whole organization's benefit. ... it's a good chance it will become our largest market," Story said.
George Xu, CEO of Airbus China, said: "The expo gives the international community a sense of China's solid efforts to open its market and share opportunities. At a time of rising protectionism, China's sincerity is unmistakable."
Airbus is looking to maintain its position as the market leader for helicopters in China.
"China used to be seen as the world's factory, but now it is seen as the world's market," Marie-Agnes Veve, head of Airbus Helicopters in China, said at CIIE. "It's a fast-growing market, and as such we see lots of opportunities here. Although we have been in China for 200 years and are currently the leader in the helicopter market, we want to continue to be the main actor here in the years to come."
Veve said 85 operators in China fly Airbus helicopters for utility missions in the oil and gas, agriculture and transportation industries. In contrast, there are hardly any operators in the helicopter emergency medical services segment.
"There are only two HEMS operators for a country as huge as China," she said. "This just shows how much potential there is in this particular market. We have already got HEMS helicopters in Beijing and are now starting in Qingdao (in Shandong province). We want to equip all the Chinese cities."