AVIC plans to develop business jet family as demand hots up

Singapore
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China's national aircraft manufacturer plans to produce an entire family of business jets in the country by the end of the decade, and get a significant share of a market dominated by Western airframers.

AVIC Aviation Techniques, a subsidiary of state-owned airframer AVIC, has been formed to spearhead the development of business jets at the company.

It is identifying the types of business jets that Chinese users will require, and finding ways to manufacture them in the country, said its president Wang Yawei on the sidelines of the Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (ABACE) in Shanghai this week.

"We can't only allow Western companies to sell aircraft in China. We want this business too. AVIC has the mandate to manufacture several types of business jets and establish our presence, just like what China has done in the motorcar business," he said. "The rapid development of China's economy has resulted in a boom in business aviation here, and we want to be competitive in the global market too."

Wang said that a 23 March agreement between AVIC Aviation Techniques and Cessna is the first step. The two companies plan to set up a joint venture in 2012 to manufacture Cessna's Sovereign and Latitude mid-sized business jets in Chengdu. They will then jointly develop and manufacture a large-sized business jet. AVIC and Cessna also plan to establish an aircraft service network in China to promote general aviation in the country.

"The Sovereign and Latitude are effective jets for China. This is a significant investment for China and a huge project for us. We are putting in a lot of our investment dollars to ensure its success," said Wang, who declined to say how much the joint venture would cost.

The plan is for the first Sovereign to roll off the Chengdu production line by the end of 2013, said Wang. Production of the Latitude, which Cessna first announced in 2011, could begin in around 2014 after it gets its certification. That year, AVIC and Cessna could begin studying the design of a large-sized business jet and start developing it in the middle of the decade.

Neither AVIC nor Cessna would reveal how many aircraft they plan to manufacture in Chengdu, with Wang saying: "There will be enough to meet the demand. If the demand grows as expected, we can increase the production capacity as well."

AVIC was in talks with several business jet manufacturers, but it chose Cessna due to the company's "brand name" and its presence in China, said Wang. Cessna manufactures the 162 Skycatcher, its two-seat entry-level light sport aircraft, in Shenyang.

"Cessna have shown a lot of passion to work with China. They considered developing a large-sized business aircraft themselves, and so we joined them and it will be defined by the Chinese market," Wang added

It will, however, be smaller than the Embraer Legacy 650 that the Brazilian airframer plans to manufacture at its factory in Harbin. Embraer is waiting for the Chinese government's nod before it begins production at the facility, which previously manufactured the ERJ-145 regional aircraft.

"We want to avoid competition with the Legacy 650. The new aircraft will be bigger than the Sovereign and Latitude, but smaller than the Legacy 650. There is a market in China for many sizes of aircraft," said Wang.