Safran reaping rewards of an early commitment to China

Singapore Air Show » 2008
February 11, 2008, 9:07 AM

When French President Nicholas Sarkozy made his first official visit to China last November he returned with the confirmation of orders for 110 Airbus 320s and 50 A330s. Safran, the French engine, equipment and systems group, stands to benefit from these deals, especially through the possible selection of its CFM56 engines by Chinese customers. However, the turbofan family–produced through Safran’s Snecma subsidiary’s joint venture with General Electric–is only one of the products the comglomerate hopes to supply to a country where it already employs more than 4,000 people in manufacturing, research and development, support and training.

Safran first gained a foothold in China in the 1970s when subsidiary Turbomeca supplied the Chinese army with Turmo III turboshaft engines for its Aerospatiale Super Frelon helicopters. According to Michel Ah-Fa, Safran director for China, Taiwan and the ASEAN countries, things really took off when Turbomeca sold an Arriel engine production license for Chinese military helicopters. Since then, one in every two Chinese helicopters is equipped with Turbomeca powerplants–whether built in France or manufactured under license in China. Although China currently counts just 500 helicopters in service–two thirds of them military aircraft–the country’s civil market is expected to grow following the anticipated opening of its lower airspace around 2010.

According to Ah-Fa, as of early 2007 (the latest date for which firm figures are available), 1,288 CFM engines were in service with Chinese operators–more than 60 percent of all engines in this powerplant category operating in the country. CFM’s main competitor, International Aero Engines, has about 12 percent of the market with its V2500 turbofan. With the new orders and an expected increase of about 10 percent annually in China’s air traffic in the near future, CFM hopes to sell more than 100 engines a year.

Safran’s presence in China also comprises its Messier-Dowty subsidiary, which produces the landing gear installed on one out of three mainline jets in the country. It maintains an office in Beijing and a customer support operation for wheels and brakes subsidiary Messier-Bugatti. It operates an aircraft maintenance training center (AEMTC) in Guanghan, near Chengdu, in partnership with the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority’s Flying College, which in the last decade has trained more than 5,000 mechanics and technicians on the CFM56-3, -5 and -7.

The group also is involved in seven joint ventures, among them the Snecma Sichuan Aero-engine Maintenance Co. in Chengdu, turbine blade maker Snecma Xinyi Airfoil Casting Co. in Guyang and the Turbomeca Changkong Aero-engine Control Equipment Co. in Beijing, which assembles and tests jet engine hydromechanical assemblies.

Safran Grows Down Under

Turbomeca Australasia has inaugurated an expanded facility at Bankstown Airport, near Sydney, to meet a growing demand for helicopter engines. It will be able to assemble, test and support the 92 RTM 322 and 46 MTR390 engines that power the MRH90 and Tiger ARH helicopters, respectively, for the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca joint venture.

The TurboSupport Center services the Arriel, Arrius and Makila engines and is a repair site for the Arriel 1 series engines. Its 100 employees provide support to more than 150 operators and 400 engines in Australia, New Zealand and various Pacific islands. Turbomeca now claims 46 percent of the Asia Pacific region’s civil helicopter engine market.

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