China reveals plans for long-range bizjet

November 20, 2012

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China attracted some attention at Airshow China 2012, announcing plans to build a long-range business jet with a large cabin, and displaying a scale tabletop model. AVIC promised high technology, including fly-by-wire controls and “new-generation propulsion systems.”

Industry analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group said China’s track record to date does not suggest AVIC is capable of producing a competitive bizjet on its own, and there is no evidence that deals forged to date will provide the fledgling Chinese aerospace industry with what it takes to compete with the established players.

As AOPA reported previously, Cessna has signed agreements to build business jets and Caravans in China; Aboulafia noted in a recent online article that many similar deals have been struck without lighting any spark of aerospace innovation in China.

What’s been absent from those transactions to date, Aboulafia said, is the “intellectual property,” the designs, market analysis, and cutting-edge technology that are essential to making an aircraft that will perform—and sell—in a competitive market.

“They are doing a little bit of that with Cessna,” Aboulafia said, “but there’s no evidence it’s going to provide anything new. … We’ve seen these sort of cooperative quote unquote ventures for a couple of decades now, and they haven’t produced what China needs.”

Aboulafia said the failed attempt by Superior Aviation Beijing to purchase Hawker Beechcraft from bankruptcy might have changed that equation, bringing to China not just assembly capability, but the know-how required to design a competitive aircraft from scratch.

With that deal now off the table (and Hawker Beechcraft looking to shut down the Hawker jet lines altogether), China is unlikely to field a home-grown business jet any time soon, Aboulafia said. It is possible that AVIC has reached an agreement with one of the established players to develop its “China New Generation Business Jet,” tapping into that marketing and design know-how. AVIC made no mention of that in its public statement, suggesting the project is locally sourced.

“It might be, in which case, God help them,” Aboulafia said.