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No Kidding: Chinese Conglomerate Locks Onto General Aviation

A Chinese company named Hanxing Group, an industrial conglomerate with major investment in energy, real estate, chemical, and automobile business has recently set it’s another track into the nearly non-existing General Aviation (GA) industry. Hanxing is perhaps one of a few companies that are serious about general aviation in China. Many still-surviving Chinese GA companies are essentially real estate speculators as the state and local governments guarantee preferential terms on land acquisition and even provide tax incentives for those who claim to devote their business to GA (Once they get the land, things start to get a little bit iffy). Since early 2009, Hanxing has made a series of significant moves including a net acquisition of Glasair and a signed investment commitment to Van’s RV, both of which are popular, time-honored American aircraft manufacturers. To say the least, it has invested too much to let it turn into another joke.

Pronounced “Han-SHing” instead of “Hank-Sing”, the name suggests the company’s ambition to becoming a “vast and boundless star” that business and technology gravitate toward. Hanxing claims that its subsidiary, Hanxing General Aviation, has become the largest dealer of general aviation aircrafts in China. It has erected the first CAA approved FBO in Zhuhai, China, a southeastern port city where the nation’s largest biennial airshow is hosted. In the next 5 to 10 years, Hanxing intends to invest in another 40 Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) and 30 GA airports as part of its plan of rising into the country’s largest GA business shareholder. It wants to do more than just everything that the largest FBO in the US could do. As a veteran in real estate business, Hanxing has shown tremendous interest in the market niche of “fly-in community”, or “Airpark” where residential property is built around small, usually private airports. Houses are generally attached to or nearby property owners’ airplane hangars. Such novelty would almost certainly attract many of the Chinese nouveau riche who already got bored with exorbitant two-dimensional vehicles. They even used a picture of John Travolta’s famous hangar-house (parked with his “Qantas” 707) in their advertising brochure.

Upon acquisition of Glasair, the chairman of Hanxing promised to certify the Glasair sportsman, potentially a big step toward dominating the fixed wing training markets in China. Perhaps 20 years later the Chinese pilots would see the sportsman the same way as US pilots see Cessnas. This prospect is confirmed by the decision of the Hanxing-owned Glasair to develop its diesel version of the sportsman since avgas is nearly unattainable in China. James Fallows, a senior journalist from the Atlantic and a pilot himself, described his experience ferry-flying a Cirrus SR-22 in China back in 2006 for the Zhuhai airshow in his book “China Airborne”.  He vividly described how the ground crew had to suck (yes, with their mouth) fuel through the hose to siphon it from the barrel into the wing tanks. What’s more astounding is that their long-waited avgas came from “derelict ex-soviet military trainers that had been parked in a remote section of the airport”. Going diesel is a strategic move that could bring down, by a significant amount, their customers’ operating costs and subsequently turn losses into profits. Actively looking for cheap ways to fly, Hanxing reached an agreement with Van’s RV, a popular and successful kit-plane supplier, to manufacture kits for the RV series in China and sell them there. Known for its low cost and high performance, RV has scored huge success in the US market and is believed to carry its profitability to China. Such well-planned business strategies distinguish Hanxing from low-roller companies and fake enthusiasts.

It certainly would be a heck of a feat for China to build up its own aviation technology and infrastructure within the targeted 20-year period, a widely publicized goal trumpeted by the government. To put it in perspective, it took the US more than half a century to accumulate all the hardware and expertise that made its freedom of flight possible. It’s now known that the modus operandi of Hanxing is to take a crash course with the US so as to speed up its GA development. Perhaps, with too much talk but too little action on the future of Chinese General Aviation, Hanxing has successfully lit up a torch in search of a more tangible way to take their people into the sky.