Accepting, however, that Beijing must want local production, the rational move would be first to make components in the city, the executive says. Yet that would not be enough, he is quick to add: “The Chinese side will want to start with assembly, for face.”
When Beijing assembly of a Hawker Beechcraft model might begin is another issue. Since the sprawling state aeronautics group Avic so far seems not to be involved in the deal — another important point — the great bulk of aircraft-building expertise in the combined company will remain with Hawker Beechcraft’s managers.
Getting Chinese managers and skilled workers for local manufacturing will be one challenge — which could be alleviated by bringing Avic into the deal, as another Chinese GA manufacturing aspirant, Chengdu Helicopter, hopes to do.
Another challenge will be getting together the facilities and infrastructure in China, says another executive with experience in doing just that. “There are many elements,” that person says. “You need the plant, all its equipment, the workforce, the training. And what about a runway? Where can the facility be located? Beijing’s air traffic is so congested. Will the air traffic authorities cooperate?”
If land is needed for development, the Chinese city government can provide it. There are small airfields in rural areas attached to Beijing, and a new major airport is planned for the south of the city.
Perhaps a bigger issue will be getting FAA certification for manufacturing in China, something that Cessna, too, must be facing as it seeks to finalize its deal in Chengdu.
The potential for business aviation in China was discussed for many years, with many years of disappointment. Then late last decade, sales to Chinese customers finally began rising quickly, partly in response to relaxed restrictions on the use of private aircraft. Hard on the heels of that, the air force, which largely controls China’s skies, accepted that low-altitude airspace could be opened progressively for private use, making helicopters and small private airplanes more attractive.
China likes to make what it uses, so the result has been a surge of interest in building GA aircraft, including business jets and helicopters. Tianjin had already shown how a city that had been an aerospace nobody could muscle its way into the industry. It now assembles helicopters and Airbuses, and will soon be turning out big space launchers. Zhuhai has since snagged the headquarters of Avic’s general aviation subsidiary, Caiga, while Chongqing is backing ambitious Chongqing Helicopter. Now Beijing, which has no major aircraft-making facilities despite being the national capital, is moving to take control of an important Western manufacturer.
Eventual Avic involvement in Hawker Beechcraft, especially through Caiga, cannot be ruled out. Caiga has been charged with making business aircraft of the size range that Hawker Beechcraft produces. And Avic is keen to get municipal funding for its new facilities, so Beijing’s money is a lure.