Hyundai Space & Aircraft has formally opened its new Seosan aerospace manufacturing plant, in move that is being widely interpreted as a challenge for the leadership of South Korea's fragmented aviation industry.

The South Korean conglomerate marked the opening of the 700,000m² (65,000ft²) plant with the completion of its first wing subassembly for the Boeing 717-200. Under a deal cemented originally with its associate company Halla Heavy Industries, Hyundai says it plans to produce some 500 wing shipsets at up to six a month.

Hyundai is trying to bolster its growing aerospace activity by signing a memorandum of understanding with Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) to produce the wing for its planned Airtruck turboprop freighter for FedEx. Hyundai will either participate on a standalone basis or as part of the Korean Commercial Aircraft Development Consortium (KCDC).

Many observers regard Hyundai's willingness to join the Airtruck development with or without the other members of the KCDC as symbolic of its determination to be South Korea's pre-eminent aerospace player, overtaking Samsung, Korean Air and Daewoo.

Samsung until recently had the lead role within KCDC, pursuing a series of ultimately unsuccessful international collaborations, but South Korea's financial difficulties have thrown its future into doubt. and its licence production of the Lockheed Martin F-16 will finish in 1999. At the same time, funding for the Samsung-led KTX-2 trainer/light attack jet has been slashed, leaving it scrambling to pick up small component subcontracting.

With Samsung's mainstream motoring and electronics businesses in trouble and with pressure from the Government to reform, there is growing speculation that its Aerospace division is up for sale.

Daimler-Benz Aerospace and British Aerospace are courting Hyundai to offer their respective proposed AT2000 and Hawk enhanced derivative trainers, should the KTX-2 venture with Lockheed Martin collapse.

Source: Flight International