Chongqing looking to the skies

Updated: 2013-04-16 07:58

By Xu Wei and Tan Yingzi in Chongqing (China Daily)

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Chongqing looking to the skies

For decades, the motorcycle industry drove Chongqing's economic growth, making the municipality the largest center for motorcycle production in China.

Now, as motorcycles are banned on the roads of nearly 200 cities, and export volumes keep slumping due to the gloomy global economic environment, local authorities and motorcycle producers are looking to the skies for growth.

Chongqing is one of more than 20 provincial areas or cities across China that have devised plans to explore the general aviation industry after State-level plans were issued in 2010.

The general aviation industrial park in Chongqing, in the Liangjiang New Area, is now home to three aircraft or aircraft parts manufacturers, including the Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus Aircraft Ltd and Chongqing Helicopter Investment Co Ltd.

Fan Yong, head of the aviation industry office in the new area, said he believes the sector's key appeal to foreign investment comes from its efforts to help overseas enterprises explore the Chinese market.

"The general aviation industry is unique in that it requires strict examination and approval from authorities. We need to make sure that the aircraft manufactured here sell well in the Chinese market," he said.

Pilatus built two production lines for its fixed wing aircraft, the PC-6 and PC-12 passenger and cargo planes, in the industrial park last year. There are more than 40 orders for the PC-6 aircraft, mainly from government institutions and general aviation companies.

Meanwhile, Chongqing Helicopter Investment Co Ltd, which acquired US helicopter manufacturer Enstrom Helicopter Corp in December, has received 10 domestic orders and 40 foreign orders.

General aviation is expected to bring a total production value of 300 billion yuan ($48 billion) a year to the municipality by 2020, according to Fan.

Huang Qifan, mayor of Chongqing, said at the launch ceremony for Pilatus' Chongqing plants that the municipality aims to become an important producer of general aviation aircraft in China.

General aviation also caught the attention of Zongshen Industrial Group Co Ltd, one of China's largest manufacturers of automotive engines and motorcycles, which is looking to explore the industry while the domestic and foreign motorcycle markets remain gloomy.

Zongshen and Hong Kong Tianze General Aviation Corp have joined forces to form the Chongqing Southwest Aircraft Manufacturing Co Ltd.

The company is planning to introduce a business jet from the US in the next three to five years and expects a yearly production volume of 500 to 600 aircraft.

"It is certainly an expanding market in the long run, and Zongshen needs to seize the opportunity," said Zhang Jian, an investment manager at Zongshen Group.

As of 2009, the United States had more than 230,000 aircraft in the general aviation sector, while China only had about 1,000.

Zongshen has bought a 10 percent stake in a Beijing aviation technology company, and obtained the aircraft manufacturing intellectual property of US manufacturer Windecker Industries in 2011.

Zhang said the company is hoping its experience in the manufacturing sector will help its development in the general aviation industry.

"However, the development of the industry will go closely with national steps toward the relaxation of airspace, and policy support from authorities," Zhang said.

Chongqing is planning to use current airports - including the municipality's Jiangbei airport, as well as county- or district-level airports - as fixed-base operators for general aviation flights.

A fixed-base operator usually provides aircraft fueling, storage, repair and maintenance facilities and sales of aircraft parts, among other services.

Fan from the Liangjiang New Area's aviation industry office said fixed-base operators are as important to general aviation aircraft as gas stations and highway rest areas are to vehicles.

"Without them, we cannot make the most of the general aviation sector," he said.

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(China Daily 04/16/2013 page17)