China’s AVIC and Russian Helicopters have finalized an agreement to develop the Advanced Heavy Lift (AHL) helicopter, a new heavy-lift helicopter design based on the Mi-26 platform.
Comment and Analysis
The two sides committed to proceed to the program in May 2015. The AHL will be produced in China to help meet domestic civilian needs in the country. The impetus for such a platform emerged when the Mi-26TS played a significant part in supporting humanitarian relief missions in China, particularly the earthquakes in Sichuan in both 2008 and 2013.
According to Russian Helicopters, the AHL is expected to have a lift capacity/payload of 10 tons internally and 15 tons externally. While principally designed as a civil-use helicopter, Russian Helicopters believes the AHL could be adapted for military use should a customer request it.
The focus on civilian use is not surprising. China is an immense market, one with a myriad of government and privately-owned entities that could make use of the AHL. From construction companies to agencies involved in medical evacuation and fire-fighting, the AHL will not be short on local demand. Rather, the AHL will join a number of other civilian-first helicopter platforms, the Airbus-AVIC Z-15/H175 and Airbus H215, in supporting the vast Chinese market.
In the long-term, China would be well-served by adapting the AHL (alongside other platforms) for military use if and where possible. The heavy-lift market in particular is narrow, with the CH-47 dominating usage in most major markets using heavy-lift helicopters. With the support of immense domestic usage as well as economies of scale, AVIC could make a competitively strong entry into the global market.