Beijing: China is planning to build a heavy-lift 33-ton helicopter in co-production with Russia to overcome logistic bottlenecks in moving heavy military equipment besides helping in disaster relief operations.

China's state-owned helicopter producer is in talks with its Russian counterpart on the project. So far, only two countries - US and Russia - have the capability to build such heavy lift choppers.

"China can produce helicopters with a take-off weight from one ton to 13 tons, but only the United States and Russia can produce choppers with lift-off weight of more than 20 tons," said Xia Qunlin, deputy general manager of Avicopter, a joint venture between Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) and the Tianjin municipal government.

Avicopter Co Ltd and Russian Helicopters are now discussing its feasibility, which includes sizing up the model's market and determining both sides' investment shares and division of work, he said.

It is not clear yet whether the issue figured in talks between Chinese Premier Wen Jiaboa and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Wen is currently in Moscow to attend the summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Russia supplies engines for most of the new generation Chinese fighter aircraft JF-17 Thunder which is being jointly produced with Pakistan.

If approved by the government, the heavy-lift helicopter will be developed and put into service in five to seven years, he said, adding it will be produced at Avicopter's Tianjin production base.

Xia said the 33-ton heavy helicopter is expected to fill a gap of heavy lift chopper in China and play important roles in rescue missions and fighting forest fires, he said.

China realised its need for heavy-lift helicopters in 2008, when it hired the Russian choppers to conduct rescue operations when a devastating earthquake in Sichuan province killed more than 69,000 people.

The one-tonne AC310 helicopter, equipped with a fuel- efficient engine and flexible rotor system, can carry two to three passengers and cruise at up to 159 km per hour. China is believed to be a big potential market for helicopters.

By the end of 2010, there were only 206 registered civilian-use helicopters across the country, which is less than one percent of the total civilian helicopters in the world.

Avicopter forecast that with the relaxing of low-altitude airspace, the demand for helicopters will grow quickly, and the mainland will need 200 civilian helicopters between 2011 and 2015.

(Agencies)