Made in China?

“You foreigners,” he said. “You come to China and complain about thepollution, but I don’t know why.” He then gestured at the blurred landscape around us. “To me, this place smells like money.”

Paul Midler, author of Poorly Made in China: An Insider's Account of the Tactics Behind China's Production Game.

I remember when I first saw the Made in America segment by ABC World News with Diane Sawyer last year. Sawyer’s team wanted to open the viewers’ eyes as to the extent of products that are not manufactured here in the United States. The ABC team asked a family if they would agree to have all products that were not made in America removed from their home to understand the extent of the products we import. When the family came home, their house was practically empty — just about everything in their home was gone. The ABC team then proceeded to give the family replacement goods that were made here in America (a challenging process in the case of some products).

So why do I bring up the topic of foreign-manufactured products? Well, as I sat down to write my column for this issue, big news hit the newswires. Hawker Beechcraft announced its sale to China-based Superior Aviation Beijing Co., Ltd. (see news section on page 34 of this issue). The China-based company bought Superior Air Parts a few years ago out of bankruptcy, and also has a helicopter manufacturing company, Qingdao Haili Helicopter Co., that manufacturers the Brantley B-2B helicopter in China, with engineering and administrative offices located at Superior’s Coppell, TX facility. 

As the news spread about the Hawker Beechcraft purchase, many reacted negatively. This has happened with other Chinese-related manufacturing and purchase announcements in the past. When Cessna announced in November of 2007 that its light sport aircraft (LSA), the Cessna 162 Skycatcher, would be manufactured by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (a Chinese government-owned consortium of aircraft manufacturers in China), many in the aviation community reacted negatively, saying jobs that could have been created here in the United States would be going overseas. Cessna stated that by manufacturing the Skycatcher in China, it would be able to save more than $70,000 in manufacturing costs per aircraft. It also said that at the time, it had no available plant capacity here in the U.S. Looking at the business side of the equation, it seemed to make sense. But that didn’t help change attitudes when it came to lost jobs here in the U.S., especially given the economic struggles we have faced since 1998.

In February of last year, Cirrus Aircraft announced that it was being sold to China Aviation Industry General Aircraft, a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (yes, the same parent company that owns Shenyang Aircraft Corporation that manufactures the Skycatcher). As with the case of the Skycatcher announcement, there was negative reaction in the aviation community. Not only was an aviation product being manufactured in China, but a whole general aviation company was being bought by the Chinese.

Now we have the Hawker Beechcraft news.

Should we be surprised by China’s increased involvement in aviation manufacturing? To be honest, when I started delving into Wikepedia to see what I could find out about Aviation Industry Corporation of China, I was surprised by the amount of aviation companies that already partnering with China. Aviation Industry Corporation’s affiliate company Changhe Aircraft Industries Corporation has a joint venture with Agusta Helicopter (Jiangxi Changhe-Agusta Helicopter Co., Ltd) and a relationship with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. Another affiliate company, China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation, has subcontracted a large number of parts and components of aircraft, engines and airborne equipment for aviation manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus, GE, Rolls Royce, Pratt & Whitney, SNECMA, Honeywell and Rockwell Collins. Today, several thousands of aircraft that have components supplied by CATIC are flying worldwide. Another subsidiary, Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation, has a joint venture with Embraer on the ERJ 145.  The list goes on and on.

So while the Hawker Beechcraft announcement states that its products will continue to be manufactured in its U.S.-based locations, looking at the scope of China’s involvement in aerospace manufacturing, one has to wonder — if ABC World News were to remove all aircraft and aircraft components from the aviation fleet that are manufactured in China, what would we be left with? Would we be looking up at empty skies?

Are our aircraft made in China? It appears we are getting closer and closer to that fact.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading! 

Joe Escobar  |  Editorial Director