Murphy's Law: Heroic Chinese Rescue Helicopters

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June 19,2008: Expect China to greatly increase helicopter production, all because of some good publicity. The recent earthquakes in China, which killed nearly 100,000 people, and left over two million homeless, was given big media play inside China. That in itself was unusual, until you consider that the news was getting out via the Internet (over 100 million users in China) and cell phones (over 500 million). The Chinese media ran with the story, and avoided the wrath of the government media censors by playing up the heroics. The Chinese helicopters were heroic, especially the civilian ones. About a quarter of all Chinese civilian helicopters were involved with the earthquakes rescue effort. But that was only 38 (out of about 160) helicopters. Civilian helicopters are still a relatively recent phenomena and China is playing catch up. Developing countries in the West, like Brazil (with one-sixth as many people as China) have nearly 600 civilian choppers. The U.S. has over 10,000, and Canada, with one-tenth the population of the U.S. (but about the same per-capita GDP) has 1,600. The demand is there, but the government controls local production and imports.

So the word is out, in the media and throughout the government, to let more civilian firms buy helicopters. China has only one helicopter manufacturer (AVIC II) which makes about 40 a year, for civilian and military customers. Only 10-15 of the hundred civilian and military helicopters used in the earthquake operation, were made by AVIC II. Government officials believe that China should have 5-10 times as many civilian helicopters. It will take several years, even with lots of imports, to reach those numbers. The Chinese media made a big deal out of the Chinese made helicopters used for earthquake operations, and it looks like AVIC II won't have a hard time getting money for new factories and staff. The government loves to play the nationalism card. And like most other modern tyrants (especially Hitler and Stalin) the Communist Party bureaucrats that run the country, pay attention to opinion polls (few of which are published) and popular enthusiasms they can exploit to their benefit.

 


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