A year ago I asked: “Will China be the savior of U.S. general aviation?” The responses flew fast and furious, from enthusiasm to indignation.
Fears that China would flood the world with cheap aircraft at the cost of U.S. jobs have abated. Chinese investors, it seems, now are focusing more on the potentially huge Chinese market while gathering technology and experience in the West.
Cirrus. Continental aircraft engines and Mattituck Services. Superior AirParts. Thielert Centurion diesel engines (now Technify Motors). Brantly, and Enstrom Helicopters. All are now Chinese-owned. Add in a license for Epic Aircraft, and count China as a major investor in the ICON light sport aircraft, whose airframes will be made by Chinese-owned Cirrus in the U.S.
China's AVIC owns Cirrus and Continental Motors, displaying here at Oshkosh.
Chinese money is also funding the single-engined Cirrus Vision jet, and has brought the Mooney back into production.
Earlier this year China’s AVIC International, owner of Continental Motors Group (CMG), partnered with France’s ASI Innovation to acquire the type certificate, inventory and manufacturing rights for the twin-engined, 14-passenger (Cessna) F406 from insolvent Reims aviation.
But China's presence seems to be smaller at this year’s AirVenture than before, reflecting more the potential of its domestic market rather than that of the U.S. Yet like a duck cruising serenely across a lake, there is furious paddling going on beneath the surface.
“AVIC International will continue to finance CMG’s research and development, as well as marketing, to lead the industry,” said Yu Yumim, CMG chairman and AVIC senior vice president, earlier this year.
“AVIC is committed to the global market, but has a special place and obligation to bring general aviation products to China,” noted Tian Shan, president of CMG. “We see true growth opportunity in China, with the final comprehensive opening of nationwide, low-altitude airspace expected in 2015,” she said.
U.S. companies have always hoped to tap into that potential, and it seems that some are succeeding.
Zenith earlier this year shipped its 45th kit for a STOL CH 750 to China (see video: “Who needs an airfield?” at http://www.zenith.aero/video/ch750-in-china). And Quicksilver Aeronautics signed a distribution agreement and order for 77 aircraft, the first of which have been shipped. Aeromarine-LSA of Florida has just supplied the first Zigolo ultralight to China, and is setting up a Zigolo assembly facility in the AVIC R&D center in Jingmen to supply the Chinese market with Ready-to-Fly Zigolos.
GE Aviation is also tapping China’s potential. Its H80 turboprop is powering a number of Thrush 501G crop dusters that are already in service there, and the single-engined Primus 150 executive aircraft built by AVIC’s CAIGA with GE’s turboprop made its first flight just a couple of weeks ago.