Textron Aviation’s joint venture (JV) in China for assembly of its workhorse Cessna Caravan 208 turboprop single is hitting its stride, while the JV for assembly of the Cessna Citation XLS+ and market demand for the midsize twinjet lags, Mike Shih, v-p strategy and business development for China, told AIN last month at ABACE.
The Caravan JV, Cessna-Avic (Shijiazhuang) Aircraft Co., based in Shijiazhuang, has delivered more than 50 Caravan 208s to customers in China since beginning operations in 2013. The facility was initially little more than a paint and delivery center, but last September the FAA approved an extended production certificate (PC) for the facility, identical to the PC at the company’s main Wichita factory. “Everything is done under Textron Aviation’s quality system,” Shih said.
The FAA audits, carried out “in a two to three-year time frame” before extended PC approval, involved oversight of completion of components shipped from Wichita and final assembly in China to ensure capability and compliance. The Shijiazhuang facility has produced and delivered six Caravans since receiving the extended PC.
Annual production rate “all depends on the market,” said Shih. “We don’t necessarily have to produce 20 airplanes a year.” However, the Caravan could be a linchpin for business aviation’s regional growth, Textron (SD 14; Booth V19) believes. “The utility market is really a strong stepping stone for aviation development in China,” Shih said, adding that the turboprops could also provide passenger service for linking third-tier cities that have no direct air connections, as government plans call for.
The increased demand for floatplanes and amphibious aircraft in the region is also expected to boost sales. Before 2013, “there was no amphibious operator in China,” said Shih, but today the county has more than 25 Caravan 208s on floats—about half of all Caravans delivered in China. “Realistically, it’s easier to set up a seaplane base operation than to wait for a runway to be built,” said Shih. “It’s a quick way for coastal cities to have air service.”
The Denali, Cessna’s in-development pressurized single-engine turboprop, is more suited to China’s mountainous terrain, so the company doesn’t expect the models to cannibalize each other’s sales; there are no plans currently to produce the Denali in China.
XLS+ Venture Lags
Meanwhile, Textron’s XLS+ assembly JV, the Cessna-Avic (Zhuhai) Aircraft Co., began deliveries from Zhuhai in late 2014. Shih declined to disclose production figures but said, “The delivery of that particular model has been a little slow in China.” He cited “the political environment” as a contributing factor, referencing the government’s recent austerity campaign, but noted “a slight recovery and pick up” in the last year.
That includes an order for three XLS+s from the China Flight Inspection Center, a division of the CAAC, which will help enhance awareness of midsize jets in China, a market heretofore singularly focused on large-cabin airframes. Current production work at the XLS+ facility is largely confined to painting the airframe.
Cessna has scaled back its China expansion plans from earlier this decade, which once included assembly of the Citation Sovereign and the now-canceled Skycatcher light sport aircraft in the People’s Republic. However, Textron Aviation is taking the long view. “We want to be growing with this industry in China,” said Shih, noting government plans to have more than 500 general aviation airports by 2020. “Once these airports are built, and airspace issues rectified, that’s when we believe general aviation will really be on a steady rise.”
Meanwhile, Textron can “leverage the capability of both [facilities] to expand service capabilities within China,” said Shih. The Shijiazhuang plant is an FAA Part 145 approved repair station for the Caravan, and Textron wants to add the Citation Latitude and Beechcraft King Air 350 to the facility’s approvals.