Avic and Cessna, which are still negotiating details of a wide-ranging partnership, are aiming to deliver the first Citation Sovereign from their planned Chengdu, China assembly line within 18 months.

The plant will supply aircraft to the Chinese market, says Michael Shih, Cessna’s VP for strategy and business development in China.

“Negotiations are going well and we are working towards a joint-venture contract within this year,” Shih says. “We are hoping the first one will come off the line late next year.”

The plant, part of a planned agreement announced in March, will follow the pattern that Airbus established in 2006 when it agreed to set up an assembly line for A320 family aircraft in Tianjin in partnership with Avic and, as an investor, the Tianjin city government.

In Cessna’s case, the partners are the Chengdu city government and fighter builder Avic Aviation Techniques (AAT). However there is a key difference: the Citation Sovereign assembly line is just the first part of a deeper cooperation that will include joint development and production of a new and larger aircraft.

Locally Sold

Another difference is that when Airbus agreed to an assembly line it already had local demand for all the aircraft it could put together in Tianjin. It is unclear how Cessna and AAT can expect to get an economically large flow of Chinese orders for the Citation Sovereign, which is only one of a great many business jets on the market. The Chinese government is unlikely to force private buyers to choose the locally assembled aircraft, although it could easily direct its many enormous state enterprises to choose it.

The production rate is not yet determined, says Shih, declining to give further details while negotiations are underway.

The Cessna Latitude, not yet certified, is also earmarked for assembly at Chengdu.

While the partners are not divulging details, it is clear that Cessna has mitigated the technical difficulty in the program by beginning with only assembly—a relatively small part of the production process that will nonetheless reward government backers with the prestige of pushing complete aircraft out of a local plant.

Lessons To Learn

Cessna was one of at least seven business-jet builders that AAT approached as potential partners that could help it get into making such aircraft. Avic head office had told it to follow Dassault’s business structure in sharing design talent, technology and manufacturing facilities between combat aircraft and high-performance business jets.

Before the agreement with Cessna was announced, industry executives said AAT and Chengdu city had proposed to set up a new company for the project. While that will further complicate the bewildering wiring diagram of Avic’s organization, it should also offer a chance to build up an enterprise with greater efficiency and better management than the notoriously bureaucratic state aircraft builder.

Staff will presumably be drawn from AAT but also possibly from a civil aircraft manufacturing enterprise at Chengdu that belongs to another part of Avic and is more experienced in serving commercial customers instead of the Chinese air force.