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China’s General Aviation Growth Follows Its Economy
May 2, 2011
Last month, business jet manufacturer Embraer and Chinese company AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China) signed a preliminary agreement to start a Legacy 600/650 production line in that country. The deal reportedly will transform one or more lines now turning out Embraer’s 50-seat ERJ-145 regional jets, re-tooling them to produce the Legacy business jets that are based on the ERJ-135/145 design.
That announcement, significant as it is for business aviation, is only the latest news signaling China’s growing presence across the general aviation (GA) landscape.
One of the most advanced of the GA efforts in China, the partnership of Textron-owned Cessna and China’s Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC), is now rolling Cessna’s light sport aircraft, the Model 162 SkyCatcher, off the production line.
More than 100 of the aircraft have been completed so far, and Cessna officials say they are holding orders for almost 900 more. Sales of other Cessna products in China have also done well, with more than 200 Cessna aircraft in use, including 26 Citation business jets and nine Caravan single-engine turboprops.
Said Trevor Esling, Cessna Vice President of International Sales, “The China market is very special to Cessna and we continue to focus our effort here in terms of sales, manufacturing and customer support. We…[will]…continue to expand our presence here to ensure we have the resources to support our growing fleet.”
Since 2000, at least five international airframe manufacturers have built, are building or are planning production facilities in China. They include Textron Cessna Aircraft, the Boeing Company, Eurocopter, Groen Brothers and Diamond Aircraft.
In addition, China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Company Limited (CAIGA) announced on February 28 plans to purchase U.S. manufacturer Cirrus for $210 million, although opposition to that sale has surfaced in the U.S.
“No longer can China be called ‘the sleeping dragon’ where GA is concerned,’” said Jason Liao, the National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA’s) Chief Representative in Asia. “Recent relaxation of airspace restrictions by the Chinese government and the booming economy are having a decidedly positive effect on GA, particularly business aviation in China.”
Growth Extends Beyond Airframes
General Aviation growth in China has not been limited to airframes. Late last year, leading U.S. aviation piston engine manufacturer Teledyne Continental Motors was purchased by AVIC subsidiary Technify Motors, although the companies agreed to leave engine production in Mobile, AL. According to Teledyne Continental officials, the Chinese infusion of $186 million will enable continued development of diesel technology purchased from SMA earlier in the year.
Along with rising GA manufacturing, the number of GA pilots in China is ballooning. The January 2011 CAAC count of non-military pilots in China shows 2,602 Chinese holders of private pilot licenses, 11,187 with commercial pilot licenses, and 10,482 with ATP pilot licenses. Jane Zhang, owner of Silk Wings Aviation and co-founder of the Friends of China
GA organization, said that those figures are up from a total of 8,800 civilian pilots several years ago.
Growth of GA in China can help the U.S.,” said Zhang. She identified 29 China-approved pilot training schools outside the country, almost half in the U.S., and pointed out that the increasing number of Chinese students is helping offset the decline in domestic enrollment at those schools.
“U.S. companies should embrace growth in China and take advantage of it,” said Zhang. “If we don’t, Europeans and others will.”
At a recent conference in Zhuhai, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) deputy administrator Li Jian told reporters, “the current development level of general aviation is unable to keep pace with China’s social and economic development needs. GA has tremendous potential and the outlook is bright.”
Government Embracing General Aviation
The current enthusiasm is a night-and-day contrast to GA’s humble beginnings in China. According to Sergey A. Araslanov, author of the 2011 report “GA Market In China,” published by the General Aviation Scientific and Technical Center Limited of the Ukraine, GA in China started in 1951 with special dispensation from the CAAC for one – and only one - C-46 to spray a pesticide in Guangzhou province.
At that time, all airspace in the country was securely locked down by the military, a situation that continued until just a few years ago. Decisions by the Chinese government have set the stage for opening airspace for civilians, provided they stay below approximately 10,000 MSL.
Contrast that approach to GA in China among government officials to the one that will be on display at the largest-ever Chinese GA exhibition, airshow and static display, to held in Xi’an, China from October 14-16 this year.
Sponsored by the CAAC, the People’s Government of Shannxi Province, and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, the biennial show is expected to “cultivate the general aviation market (and) promote general aviation development,” according to officials.
Expected at the event are about 150,000 spectators looking at exhibits from some 500 domestic and overseas GA companies and more than 100 aviation equipment manufacturers.
Next year, the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (ABACE) will be held February 28 – March 1, 2012 in the new Shanghai Hawker Pacific Business Aviation Center in Shanghai. ABACE is being sponsored jointly by the NBAA and the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA).
"NBAA recognizes the importance of the Asian region to the future of U.S. business aviation, and we are working closely with our colleagues at AsBAA," said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “ABACE will give NBAA members an unprecedented opportunity to learn how their companies can best benefit from GA growth in Asia.”
“China is the new frontier for GA,” said NBAA’s Liao, who has held top positions with several major business aviation manufacturers and helped launch AsBAA. “It is a very exciting time to be in the industry, and there are many opportunities. But the Chinese GA industry has a long way to go and much to learn from the developed GA countries like the U.S.”