In the race to WIN what promises to be one of the world's largest air-transport markets in the 21st century, aircraft manufacturers in recent years have been busy beating a path to Beijing bearing all manner of industrial and infrastructural inducements. Airbus Industrie is about to take the wraps of what arguably represents the most ambitious investment to date, the $170 million Hua-Ou Aviation Training and Support Centre.
The plan to establish an integrated training, spares and repair centre in China was announced in 1994, at a time when Airbus was in third place behind Boeing and McDonnell Douglas (MDC), with total sales in the country of just 35 aircraft in nine years. The message was clear: if Toulouse wanted to improve on its position, a demonstration of commitment to China was required.
Boeing and MDC have traditionally courted China by offering large chunks of work: MDC in fact created a complete MD-80/90 production line in Shanghai. Given the multi-national make-up of Airbus and the clear demarcation in workshare between the four partners, the European consortium's options in this area are limited in the short-term and a commitment would have to be expressed in another form.
"What the Chinese want to see from us is a full commitment to the support of a fleet of aircraft in China. We wanted to improve that support, and the Chinese wanted to see an improvement. It was a commitment we made independent of any orders. It was important, but not directly linked," claims Airbus China president Rolf Rue.
The decision to build a centre in Beijing, however, appears to have paid dividends. Within ten months of the ground being broken at the 40,000m2 (430,500ft2) site in July 1995, Chinese premier Li Peng finalised a $1.5 billion deal on behalf of China Aviation Supplies (CASC) for 30 Airbus A320s. The new aircraft, which will be allocated to China Southern Airlines, China Northwest Airlines and Zhejiang Airlines from this year onwards, boosted Airbus' fleet market share from 7% to 15% by the close of 1996.
Chinese orders for Airbus aircraft are not likely to stop there. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) says that it needs to import 240 new jet-powered aircraft by 2000, of which 160 have not yet been ordered. Rue's stated goal in China mirrors that of Airbus worldwide - that of capturing a 50% share of the market.
"Fundamentally, this Centre is a way in which Airbus can invest to ensure that we have got sufficient infrastructure available in China to support the fleet of Airbus aircraft that we anticipate selling to the Chinese," states Rue.
The Hua-Ou, or Sino-European, Aviation Training & Support Centre now nearing completion 30km (16nm) north of downtown Beijing is essentially a collaborative effort between Airbus and the CAAC's commercial wing, CASC. It has three separate buildings, of which the largest and most expensive are a five-storey training centre and a 5,000m2 support centre. A third building, which falls outside the joint venture, will house Airbus China's commercial and administrative functions.
Land and personnel
In return for an estimated $70 million outlay on the part of Airbus, including the cost of two full-flight simulators, CASC has contributed land and local personnel. The eventual aim is for the centre to be run as a stand-alone business, with Airbus acting as a customer and paying the joint venture a handling fee for the movement of aircraft spares.
The actual support centre, being constructed adjacent to the training building, will have three different functions. About 2,000m2 has been given over to a bonded warehouse for spare parts, and the same area again is reserved for repair and overhaul by individual suppliers, with the remaining area designated as office space for vendor representatives, joint-venture management and a communal business centre.
"The support centre is a physical and, to some extent, a legal and political roof, " explains Rue. "Within this centre, there will not only be Airbus propriety items stocked, but also the various vendor companies are coming in to set up their own businesses distributing spare parts, doing tests and overhaul."
Overall investment in the support centre is projected to top $100 million, including the provisioning of spares. The number of line items stored will almost certainly grow as the Airbus fleet in China expands. As a result, provision has already been made for a further 2,000m2 of storage space to be added within three to four years.
"On the Airbus side there will be over 10,600 parts at the beginning," reveals Francois Mourareau, Airbus vice-president for customer services and general manager of the joint venture. He adds: "Our objective is for Beijing to satisfy 80% of orders from Chinese customers, the rest will come from Airbus in Hamburg."
Some 15 vendors had signed up by the end of 1996 to rent space from the joint venture. Mourareau expects this to increase to 20 by the time the centre opens for business in March. Agreements are already in place with Aerospatiale Systems and Services, AlliedSignal Aerospace, Eltra Aeronautics, Grimes Aerospace, Honeywell, Interturbine, Messier-Bugatti, Messier-Dowty, Nord-Micro, Satair, Sextant Avionique, Sully Products Speciaux, Sundstrand, TPA/Ultra and APIC, while Hughes Avicom is expected to sign shortly.
Each vendor will be provided with workshop, office and warehouse space to support its operations. While most companies plan to install their own repair equipment, they are being encouraged by Airbus to make use of common automatic test equipment. The centre will be fitted with an Aerospatiale ATEC 6000, capable of testing avionics fitted to any type of Airbus aircraft in Chinese airline service.
Nor will the resident vendors be restricted to supporting just Airbus products. "This is where our business easily makes mistakes by being too protective-If you look at it from the point of view of someone who's coming to do business and you want them to come in, you can't restrict them. It's much better to let them do everything and have a facility that really works and supports your customers," contends Rue.
Having an in-country repair and overhaul capability less than 2km from Beijing Capital Airport, along with a comprehensive stock of spares, will avoid bureaucratic hold-ups at airport customs, and should shorten turnaround times . "You could be talking about 48h as being completely achievable," suggests Rue.
Due for completion around the same time as the support base is the adjoining 8,200m2 CASC-Airbus training centre. It has been modelled on Airbus' two existing training centres in Toulouse and Miami, with the added proviso that the building be able to withstand earthquakes measuring up to eight on the Richter scale. The centre will have three full-size simulator bays, four computer-based-training classrooms and instructor and management offices.
Installation of the first of two new full-motion simulators, an A320 machine from Thomson Training & Simulation (TTS), is due to begin soon, and it will be in operation by the middle of the year. The simulator will be configured so that it can represent either International Aero Engines IAEV2500 or General Electric/Snecma CFM56-powered A320s, both of which have been ordered by Chinese airlines.
The simulator will be used for training crews for China's three new A320 operators and existing user Sichuan Airlines. With China Southern Airlines taking 17 of CASC's 30 A320s, however, the Guangzhou-based carrier is likely to invest in its own simulator and rely more on Beijing for spill-over training.
Training a320 crews
In the long term, Airbus envisions supporting a much larger constituency of A320 family aircraft in China. Rue points that having the simulator already in place is of critical importance when talking to other smaller potential operators, such as China Xianjiang Airlines or China General Aviation.
With China Eastern Airlines having already purchased an A300-600R simulator from TTS, Airbus opted for an A330/340 machine for its second simulator for the Beijing centre. It plans to instal the TTS simulator by September, and expects to keep it busy supporting A340 operator China Eastern, which has eight aircraft in service or on order, and Air China, with the first of its three jet airliners due for delivery in the second half of the year.
"The installed base of A340s here is already significant," claims Rue. "The simulator will be able to handle the A340 and the A330, and we're expecting more sales. One thing to remember is that you need more simulators per long-haul aircraft than short-haul aircraft. Typically, there are seven crews to every aircraft, compared to four for shorter-range aircraft."
Each simulator will be capable of performing up to 5,000h of training a year, but the throughput of pilots will depend on the mix of transition and recurrent training. The centre will also be used for maintenance and performance training, with each classroom designed to accommodate up to 16 students.
The training centre's third simulator bay will for the time being be occupied by a cabin crew trainer. As the need for more training space develops, it is planned to move the cabin trainer to a side extension. "At that time, we will put a third simulator in, possibly an A320 depending on market requirements," says Mourareau.
For Rue, completion of the Hua-Ou centre, taken with 1996's A320 order intake, caps a two-and-half year personal effort to put Airbus on the map in a country long regarded as a US aerospace preserve. "The centre is a major investment that demonstrably puts our position on supporting the Airbus fleet in China clearly in the light of day," he concludes.
Source: Flight International