ABACE Convention News

Textron Aviation Ready For China Growth

 - April 6, 2017, 6:05 PM
While large-cabin, ultra-long-range jets have grabbed most of the interest among Asia Pacific buyers, versatile utility turboprops such as the Beechcraft King Air Series twin has multiple roles waiting as China builds infrastructure.

Textron Aviation (Chalet 10) comes to ABACE confident that it is well placed to benefit from long-term growth in business aviation in China and the wider region—particularly in China because of the government’s stated aim to focus on investment in the sector, including hundreds of new regional airports.

Sales have been going well, senior v-p business development for China Bill Schultz told AIN. “We don’t publish numbers, but generally speaking what we’re seeing in China is that the government has gotten behind the growth of GA, especially in relation to the latest [13th] five-year plan—which calls for 500 airports by 2020,” supported by the devolution of power to local governments to approve such small airports. “We have seen an encouraging amount of activity, and people interested in establishing special operations and regional commuters, for example.” So the trend is continuing, he added, despite the “austerity” drive by the government that started a couple of years ago to root out corruption.

“That’s like a sweet spot for us,” said Schultz, “for example, we have seen a particularly strong response for the King Air and 208 [Cessna Caravan].” He noted that these more utilitarian aircraft typically play a big part in developing countries, particularly where regional road and rail networks are lacking. And “one area identified specifically by the Chinese government in its latest five-year plan was to improve the distribution of goods.”

Schultz said that he has recently found “many communities in China are now recognizing [GA] as a way to get tourists to their location. Finishing that last 100 km, to areas that are absolutely gorgeous. For example that can open up the possibility of a regular service with a King Air 350.”

He said the Caravan can be used in many different regions to develop air services, and it will prove itself in China’s Western Province.

Textron Aviation has two joint ventures in China to produce aircraft; the Caravan in Shijiazhuang, just south of Beijing, and the Citation XLS in Zhuhai, near Hong Kong. The former is at a more advanced stage, as the market is stronger with that aircraft at the moment, he said. So the company is “expanding capacity to include parts and maintenance support, and expanding the parts store.”

“We’ve been really ramping up our capability, investing in people, tooling etc. Operators are really very sensitive about the cost of operating their airplanes, and the biggest cost would be not having them [flying]. So the ability to recover from an AOG [‘Aircraft on Ground’] situation is critical.” He said there was a focus on supporting the King Air 350 in particular. “It’s a big year for the 350,” he said, indicating that the fleet is growing in the region.

He anticipates that Citation jets will be a major focus now that the Latitude is in service and the Longitude is approaching certification next year, followed the large-cabin Hemisphere after that. He said that “the economics are right” with these Citations and expects them to sell well in China. “They’re getting lots of attention. We’re seeing a transition in the thought process [of buyers]—before, people just wanted to buy the long-range aircraft for international travel. Now, there’s a focus on [capabilities] the market needs, what they’re going to actually use them for.”

So with the XLS, he said a similar, step-by-step increase in the support capability would follow, as the market allows, “and we’ve got the full support of the [Textron] group too.” That includes Singapore, so service support can be brought in relatively quickly. Textron Aviation has three local Chinese support technicians in the country as well.

Schultz’s office is in Shanghai, and he shares it with two other Textron subsidiaries, Bell Helicopter and Textron Finance. Beyond that, Textron has interests in China outside aviation, which gives the group additional depth of knowledge, he said. “We have a strong presence in China with tool and special-vehicle companies, a manufacturing facility for automotive fuel tanks [and so on]. So few aviation companies have as much presence in China. We have a lot of group expertise in the market here, a deep and rich contact base and reputation among government officials and other industry officials. We’re often consulted and meet with CAAC [for example].”

At ABACE, Textron has on static display a Citation XLS and a Caravan, with something new, having “specific product presentations at our chalet, three or four different presentations”—including on the new Citations. “We think these are going to be game changers in terms of how people think of GA.”

Last but not least, Schultz discussed the burgeoning market for small training aircraft such as the company’s venerable Cessna 172. “CAFUC [The Civil Aviation Flying University of China] is already operating more than 100,” he said.

Overall, he noted that aviation in China is growing very differently to the way it grew in the U.S. Here, it started with the airlines, and is filling in now at the lower levels, starting with the large-cabin bizjets. But he underlined that what is really holding the industry back is having enough trained people. There is a “need for talent, a need to train,” he concluded.