Beijing choppers finally take off from the ground

By Lance Crayon Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-19 18:30:03


A view of the helicopter landing area at the 999 Emergency Center, Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Red Cross Emergency Rescue Center
A view of the helicopter landing area at the 999 Emergency Center, Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Red Cross Emergency Rescue Center

Helicopters are a common sight in most foreign cities, but in Beijing they're only starting now to make a blip on the capital's radar.

In order to facilitate growth, affordability and increasing the number of helicopters in the city are currently being addressed.

Restrictions on the use of lower altitude airspace are opening up in China, which has been a boost to the helicopter industry.

As part of its latest five-year plan, helicopters can now fly up to 1,006 meters, and getting the necessary government approval to do so is becoming easier.

Today, China lags far behind other countries in terms of the amount of helicopters a country has in civil use.

In a report from Xinhua News Agency last year, Wang Xia, director-general of the general aviation committee of the China Air Transport Association, said China had only 160 registered civil helicopters.

She explained, "Compared to other countries of similar size, the number is too small." 

In the same report Wang said the US has 10,000 civilian helicopters, while Russia and Canada have 3,000 and 1,000 respectively.

Last year Beijing police had only four helicopters in its entire fleet. On August 17, 2011 one of them crashed while returning from a training session, killing four policemen.

Earlier this year helicopter relief was provided to a five-year-old Swedish boy, who sustained injuries while skiing at Zhangjiakou, North China's Hebei Province, about 193 kilometers north of Beijing.

It was the first time a helicopter had been used for this type of relief and the boy was rushed from the ski resort to Beijing in under an hour.

The estimated cost of the helicopter rescue was reported to be 100,000 yuan ($15,700).

Tian Zhenbiao, vice director of the Beijing Red Cross Emergency Rescue Center, told Metro Beijing, "We work directly with Beijing Capital Helicopter Company [a leading helicopter company]. We have a landing pad, and usually the helicopters will first land at the center and then transfer the patients to other hospitals," Tian said.

"There are special 'green paths' reserved for 999 [official emergency] helicopters, though they are still faced with some limitations in the sky," he noted.

In Beijing, helicopters are prohibited from flying over areas anywhere within the Third Ring Road, and over sensitive military sites and the airport.

"Given the fact that traffic in Beijing is getting worse, the helicopter has become a must since it is faster and can get to a destination without getting stuck in traffic," Tian explained. 

Helicopters are expensive and so is learning how to operate one, but that may change once Eurocopter opens a flight simulator in Beijing at the end of the year.

The company, based in France, is the largest helicopter manufacturer in the world. In 2004 they opened an office in Beijing.

The helicopter simulator will provide training on how to deal with things such as harsh weather, difficult landing conditions and rescue relief situations.

However, obstacles still remain, as an anonymous insider at Beijing Capital Helicopter Company revealed.

"There is a lack of infrastructure for helicopters, like landing fields. Usually technicians need to visit an area in an open field days earlier to decide if it is a proper place to land."

As for future access to helicopter relief, Tian explained, "We are negotiating with some insurance companies. The service could be used for a yearly premium, which may not be huge, and it would be paid to the insurance company."

Tian also noted that the center is working to make helicopters available to every citizen in need.

Jiang Jie and Chen Yanan contributed to this story

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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