Last week I attended the first Special Missions Caravan Operators Conference held in China. The conference was hosted by the joint venture Cessna-AVIC Aircraft (Shijiazhuang) Company, which was set up to conduct final assembly of Caravans for the Chinese market, in cooperation with the China General Aviation Association (CGAA) and Zhongfei General Aviation Corporation (CFGAC).
I joined about 200 other participants in listening to presentations on the characteristics, modification, maintenance, training and operation of special mission Cessna Grand Caravan EX aircraft. The particular focus was on the use of the modified aircraft for aerial photography and aerial survey operations.
Among the speakers were representatives from aerial photography, remote sensing and mapping data technology companies who are the end clients for special missions Caravan operators.
Kevin Wu, international vice president of Sales, China and Mongolia, said, “In emerging general aviation markets like China, we see excellent potential for special mission aircraft. Government entities, graphics companies and other private sector operators can all benefit from Caravan special mission aircraft to fulfill tasks and grow business. Through Cessna-AVIC Aircraft (Shijiazhuang) Co. Ltd., domestic customers are offered the multi-faceted, multi-tasking Caravan aircraft as a platform to further promote the development of China’s general aviation industry.”
Most of what was presented was really of an introductory nature and I got the feeling that many of the attendees were there to learn about general aviation as a business concept as much as about the special mission Caravan. This is perhaps a good reflection on the current state of GA in China. On the one hand you have, for example, Caravans being assembled and outfitted in Shijiazhuang, and special mission Caravan mods being carried out by Zhongfei Aviation in Xi’an. On other hand you have a great number of entrepeneurs who know that GA is going to be huge in China but they are still trying to figure out how it works as a business. One of the budding GA companies I got to know after the meeting appeared to be a family affair – mum, dad, and daughter. They told me they had come along because they had a GA airport in their town and they were planning to turn it into an “airport city!” Such are the lofty ambitions of even aviation neophytes in this country. It is certainly going to be an interesting ride.
One final thing. As the only foreigner present, I was not able to attend the tour of the special mission conversion and maintenance and repair facilities after all. This was not at all surprising. These facilities are inside the highly sensitive Yanliang Airport area, among other things, home to the Chinese Y-20 strategic airlifter and J-10 fighter programs. Entry is jealously guarded by the apparatus of state security. If there are any protocols allowing foreigners to pay a visit, I am certainly not enough of a personage to trigger them!