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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Will China Be the Savior of U.S. General Aviation?

Will China Be the Savior of U.S. General Aviation?
Posted by John Morris 3:02 AM on Jul 30, 2013

Its Presence Grows as it Takes – and Invests – in a World View

Look upwards, and one will see – not aerobatics, but more Chinese flags than ever fluttering gently in the breeze here at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Look down, and China has a fast-growing presence in U.S. general aviation, underscored with a national pavilion here and another sponsored by the province of Shandong. Look even more closely and one sees Chinese labeling on an Enstrom 280FX helicopter following the company’s acquisition by China’s Chongqing Helicopter Investment Co., last December.

The drumbeat is relentless. China, in its preparation to meet the pent-up demands of a dammed-up domestic market for general aviation, is buying up general aviation in the West at an ever-increasing rate.

Cirrus. Continental aircraft engines. Epic Aircraft. Superior AirParts. Thielert diesel engines. Brantly, and Enstrom Helicopters. All are now Chinese-owned. Count China as a recently-announced major investor in the ICON light sport aircraft, whose airframes will now be made by Chinese-owned Cirrus, albeit in the U.S. And Chinese money is also bringing the single-engined Cirrus Vision jet to market.

Cirrus CEO Dale Klapmeier notes that owner China Aviation Industry General Aircraft (CAIGA) is committed to supporting the company ’s development efforts, and that the Vision is among several products on the drawing table. While he would not specify details, he said yesterday, “We do have plans. We know what . . . we want next; we know what the airframes are. We have a growth path.”

Chinese companies build the Cessna Skycatcher, and will soon be sending Cessna business jets out of their doors. They are already turning out Cessna Caravans.

In Shandong province, Bin Ao Aircraft Industry Co. has built 96 complete Diamond DA40D four-place single-engined diesel-powered light aircraft out of orders for 235, and is now supplying composite airframes to Austria-Diamond as required, and components to the European company’s Canadian operation. All Chinese-built, completed and ordered Diamonds are for Chinese flight schools; all are powered by Centurion diesel engines made by Thielert. That company was acquired last week by Chinese AVIC’s Continental engines subsidiary.

“We have 66% of the Chinese four-seat market between 2008-13 with the Diamond DA-40D aircraft, compared with 34% for Cessna and Cirrus together,” says Li Long, assistant to the general manager and head of sales for Bin Ao, at Oshkosh. Sales campaigns are now underway for the first exports, to Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea, he says.

China’s Yuneec International has taken a step back from aspirations it could flood the world with FAA certified electric-powered aircraft; instead it has gone into partnership with California-based GreenWing International to sell the eSpyder and e430 ultralight kits in the U.S. as experimental light-sport-aircraft kits. In a surprise announcement at AirVenture, GreenWing opened up the order book for the mostly-Chinese-built kits at $39,990. Plans call for the aircraft to be LSA-certified once the FAA grants exemptions to its LSA rules that require a reciprocating engine; an electric engine is currently not allowed under that rule.

GE Aviation will use AirVenture to announce today with its Chinese partners the first, and maybe only service center in China for the new H80 turboprop engine that will power aircraft in that country, including the Thrush 501G crop duster and the single-engined Primus 150 executive aircraft built by AVIC’s CAIGA. GE is well ahead on anticipated demand: the third Thrush 501G out of on an initial order of six is currently en-route to China, and the Primus 150 should make its first flight this year.

Chinese flags are becoming increasingly common at Oshkosh.

Enstrom was bought by a Chinese company last December.

Mostly-Chinese Yuneec aircraft are now available.

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