ABACE Convention News

Utility Aircraft Role Expansion Drives China Growth for Textron

 - April 11, 2016, 7:30 PM
Chinese sales of utilitarian aircraft like this Textron Aviation Cessna Model 208B Grand Caravan–shown here with an optional belly-mounted cargo pod–are growing faster than business jets. (Photo: David McIntosh/AIN)

At a time when much of the talk about business aviation growth in China has focused on larger, long-range jets, Textron Aviation’s greatest sales success has come from smaller jets and, even more so, from its turboprop-powered Cessna Caravan and Beechcraft King Air families.

Over the past five years, the U.S. manufacturer has increased sales of Caravan turboprop singles in the country by approximately 200 percent, to around 78 aircraft as of the end of 2015, and the number of King Airs has grown by 110 percent to 38. During the same period, the number of Cessna Citations in China increased by 21 percent to 24, with the XLS+ being the most popular model.

These three aircraft will take center stage in Textron’s exhibit here at ABACE 2016, with a Grand Caravan, King Air 350i and an XLS+ on the static display. Meanwhile, the company has high hopes for its three new jet models: the Latitude, for which the first delivery in China is expected in the fourth quarter; the in-development Longitude; and further down the line the Hemisphere.

According to Bill Schultz, Textron Aviation’s senior vice president for business development in China, one factor in the popularity of the Caravan, King Airs and Citation XLS+ in the country is a more pragmatic approach to business aviation among customers. This has resulted in a greater interest for utility roles for aircraft in China.

“The latest [Chinese government] five-year [economic] forecast focuses on developing economic belts or zones across the country and recognizes the need for [transportation] connections between these,” Schultz explained. “General aviation was emphasized as a key part of this plan.”

The Caravan is well suited to multiple missions. “It is a very cost-effective utility-type airplane, and with it we’re reaching operators looking to get into work such as aerial mapping or regional commuter services,” Schultz told AIN. The King Airs and Citation XLS+ also have proved popular for a variety of roles in China that go beyond the standard private/corporate transportation mission.

With the strong market for the Caravan, Textron Aviation has been able to move forward more rapidly with its original joint venture with Avic at Shijiazhuang, 100 km (60 m) south of Beijing, Schultz said. Textron already has seen the benefits of that facility, with deliveries of the turboprop single increasing 80 percent in China since the joint venture was established.

Textron also is providing product support for Chinese operators there. The facility, which now holds Chinese Part 145 maintenance approval, is one of two Textron service centers in China. It includes a consignment of parts and is staffed by local factory-trained technicians.

The Cessna-Avic (Zhuhai) Co. joint venture provides paint, interior installation, flight testing and delivery of the Citation XLS+ for Chinese customers in the Southern China city of Zhuhai.

Schultz remains unperturbed about the apparent deceleration in China’s economic growth. “The slowdown has been here for the last few years so we’re not expecting significant change in 2016 compared with last year or the previous year,” he commented. “The Caravan and King Air markets will continue to be very strong. We need to stay the course with our sales and marketing efforts. There will still be growth; it just might not be as steep.”

Looking ahead to prospects for the new Citation jets, Schultz maintained that the Chinese market is ready for larger, more economical models. “The Latitude is perfect for China’s geography and the Longitude is well suited to it, too, as it is quite large and with a flat floor, while still operating with the economy of a midsize jet,” he said.

As for the wider Asia Pacific region, Textron now has around 1,400 aircraft based across the vast territory. This includes some 236 Citations, 375 Caravans and 400 King Airs, with the rest being from its family of piston aircraft that are especially popular in training roles.


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