New in China
- The SportCruiser factory and the 9th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition
Anton Meier (right) has just signed a contract for 10 new SportCruisers from the new factory.
Most readers with an interest in the lighter side of aviation will know of the SportCruiser. Anton Meier of Aero Sport Aviation, near Cambridge in the Waikato, is the agent and has sold many CZAW (Czech Aircraft Works) SportCruisers throughout New Zealand and Australia.
Some may also recall that in January 2010 Piper Aircraft selected the SportCruiser as its choice of LSA, but differing business philosophies between the American company and CZAW brought that relationship to an early end a year later. CZAW has been renamed Czech Sport Aircraft and its major product is the PS-28 Cruiser.
The SportCruiser is a spacious, good looking, solid performing light sport aircraft, but slow supply out of the Czech Republic has led to a shortage of aircraft for the Australasian market, and for some time now there have been rumours of the SportCruiser being manufactured in China.
It’s true — the American designers have now built a new factory in China. American ownership is said to assure control of aircraft grade materials, components and production quality of the SportCruiser. Indeed, some of the original Czech staff have moved to China to further assure the continuing standard of workmanship demanded by the designers.
The new factory is situated in the special economic zone in Zhuhai, South China, just a short ferry trip from Hong Kong international airport.
Late last year Aerosport Aviation’s Jacky reminded me, “Still keen to visit the new SportCruiser factory in China and attend the China Airshow?”
Hell yeah, count me in. Kiwis require a visa to enter China. Aviation media and the new SportCruiser factory invitations were needed to support visa applications, so these were speedily arranged with support from Jacky.
My journey started when I met Anton Meier at Auckland Airport departures. Anton was already in Auckland attending the Big Boys’ Toys show, so Jacky was left with the arduous job of managing the last day of the show and getting the display SportCruiser back to Hamilton.
Anton and I planned to meet up with three Australian aviators along the way, but our flight was delayed and we eventually met them at the Hong Kong airport Sky Pier ferry terminal just in time to catch the last ferry to Jiuzhou, where we were met by our hosts — American designer Chip Irwin, factory owner Tom Hsueh and secretary Kay Cheng — who drove us through the hustle and bustle of the downtown port of Jiuzhoi to our hotel.
Day 1: The factory
After collecting our airshow passes at a nearby hotel, we set off in a westerly direction on the hour-long van ride to the factory. The main roads were generally modern, wide and kerbed with beautifully manicured gardens.
The variety of road users was amazing — pedestrians, taxis, coaches, cars, bicycles, scooters, trikes, trucks, tractors etc, all going at different speeds and directions. Road users were clearly used to the mayhem and were confident and alert, with lots of horn blowing and lane changing, but the traffic was surprisingly free flowing and never did we witness any road rage or anger.
With a mixture of hot mix and concrete slabs, the roads and particularly the bridges were often poorly aligned and very rough for vehicles — built-in speed bumps! As we drove further out, roads often degenerated into dusty crowded single lanes, lined with all manner of broken-down vehicles and machinery, appearing a little third world in places. The land was generally low-lying and flat for some time before arriving at the industrial area and factory.
A security guard appeared from a rickety Portacom to manually open the swing arm security gate. He eyeballed all five visitors with our hosts giving the guard a polite nod for entry approval.
The new factory building is huge — around 100m square, with adjacent staff kitchen and quarters, and set back approximately 100m from the narrow road. Further plans for the large industrial block include an airfield and seaplane base and the completion of a security moat around the perimeter.
The building is divided by columns into three equal bays approximately 100 by 33m, with the first bay set up for the SportCruiser and the Mermaid amphibian. Starting with a small welding area at one end, separated from the precision manufacturing machinery, CNC punch press and other items, subassembly jigs and benches followed by larger assembly jigs lead on to the assembly lines where the larger pre-built modules come together.
Lockable shelving racks for parts and subassemblies, a spray booth and large component racks separate the SportCruiser production line from the rest of the building.
A mezzanine floor also runs full length, housing administration, engineering, planning and draughting areas. The office utilises a network of computers for planning, purchasing, inventory and manufacturing operations from start to finish. Dedicated 3D aviation design and manufacturing applications control many of the manufacturing machines and processes, tracking and recording all parts to assure accuracy and traceability and quality control.
The rest of the building is essentially empty. The centre bay has an overhead gantry crane for possible future yacht construction, and the third bay has a skating rink where the employees play roller hockey most weeknights.
After the factory visit we watched a fast and fierce game. The goals are much lower and smaller than regular ice hockey to keep the puck low as it is too hot to wear the protective kit of the real game. Nevertheless we did spot a couple of shin shiners.
We were also surprised when our hosts cooked up a barbecue dinner of tasty morsels followed by large T- bone steaks, which must have cost a fortune in China! The local beer, Tsinghao, went down nicely in the hot and humid night.
My impression was the factory was well set up with resources and machinery to produce a high-quality product.
Day 2: Trade day
Our passes included the coach trip to the 9th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition 2012. Airshow coaches departed regularly from the nearby Richmond Hill hotel, just across the busy Jingle Road from our popular meeting point of Starbucks. The coach weaved its way through sometimes very congested traffic for over an hour in a southwesterly direction on much better roads.
Near the airshow a long section of the four-lane expressway was blocked off for transiting traffic, but it was still chaos to get the coaches through one of the many gates due to the many local vendors with all manner of street stalls selling fruit, food and souvenirs.
The entrance was a long row of security x-ray machines, the same as boarding an airliner. Security x-rayed our bags and checked our limbs with metal detectors to ensure we weren’t importing any bombs.
The Aviation Aerospace Exhibition is jointly sponsored by the People’s Government of Guangdong Province, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, Civil Aviation Administration of China, The People’s Liberation Army Air Force, Aviation Industry Corporation of China, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, China Aerospace, Science and Technology Corporation of China, Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation of China, and hosted by the Zhuhai Air Show Company. Characterised mainly by the physical display, trade negotiations, academic displays and aerobatic flights, it has become a grand international aviation event, one of the five major aviation and aerospace exhibitions in the world.
The exhibition halls were impressive in terms of scale and grade, representing army, civil, commercial, defence, search and rescue, border patrol and in particular the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation. Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Sukhoi and other well-known aerospace and aviation manufacturers such as Canada Bombardier, Rotax and Dynon, plus seemingly endless companies, represented the latest top scientific and technical achievements in the world’s aircraft industry.
Not a lot of recreational stuff as this industry is just getting ready to take off in China when the airspace gets opened up in the near future.
This was the venue for the first exhibition of the new business venture between Triton Aero Marine Industries (China) and Anton Meier’s Aerosport Aviation NZ — the SportCruiser, which was situated in the exhibition hall among all the well-known aerospace and aviation manufacturers.
Between the exhibition halls and flight line were static displays of all manner of aircraft — many never seen before in the southern hemisphere — ranging from Russian military, all sizes of commercial and private jets to small recreational gyrocopters, electric powered LSAs and of course the SC-3D SportCruiser. Communication was tricky for us, but it was easy to see the locals were very interested and impressed with the SC.
After a long day at the airshow we were hosted a tour of Zhuhai’s busy, noisy and crowded Shuiwan Bar Street and then dinner at a modern spacious and quiet Huafa Bar Street. Nowhere could you find more contrast in a bustling city. Taxi rides were most exciting with the congested traffic and seemingly no road rules. Red lights don’t mean you have to stop if the way is clear.
Day 3: Signing up
This was the highlight of the trip, the signing ceremony. Aerosport Aviation’s Anton signed a contract for 10 SportCruiser aircraft, witnessed by aviation manufacturing dignitaries and press with speeches and flashing cameras.
One of the things I most wanted to see was the J-10 Vigorous Dragon F-10 Vanguard multi-role fighter. I wasn’t disappointed. It looked great and put on a grand flying display; a pity it was so hazy and I couldn’t get any decent photos, so you will have to Google it!
Also flying at the airshow was the Warrior aerobatics team of the Russian Air Force with its five Su-27 Flanker air superiority fighter team who put on a great formation display and such exciting manoeuvres as the Cobra, blooming tulip, Kulbit etc. And with the Swiss Breitling Jet Team’s L-39C Albatros trainers and Sky Walking aero team where two beautiful girls walk the wing of Boeing Stearmans while performing formation aerobatics, you can’t help but be impressed by the skill and fear.
Day 4: Economic zone tour
For the fully hosted tour of the Zhuhai and local Pearl River Delta special economic zone developments, we took a taxi to the Bihai Hotel. After some confusion finding the bus tour, we eventually located an English speaking person who knew about the tour and took us to two waiting buses where the tour organiser, Wu Xian (Sharon), introduced us to our translator, Ivy, a shy student.
The tour drove southwest to Gaolan deep water Port Economic Zone, a large industrial park. A brand new modern centre housed an enormous model of the planned works with a beautiful woman giving a commentary on the plans. Our translator did her best to explain, but now I understand that old saying “lost in translation”!
Even though we could not understand a single word, the tour group was clearly very impressed with it all. The whole area was levelled and a large proportion appeared to be reclaimed land with dozens of trucks and earth working machinery preparing and consolidating the land and roads.
Already the Hi-tech Industrial Development District includes a power station, chemical factory and Shell additives factory. The LNG port, receiving deep well gas from the South China Sea, had been established and they were clearly encouraging new investors.
The remains of a sizeable hill at the end of the development was being set up as an ecological area with many wind turbines on the hills and recreational areas closer to the South China Sea wall. The bus toured round the development area for an hour before stopping on the way to Hengqin New Area where we were treated to a traditional meal.
On the way back the tour stopped at another huge model displaying future development of the Macau University and nearby theme park where they expect to see a phenomenally large number of visits annually.
Day 5: Homewards
On the final day it was time to relax with a quick look around Zhuhai local shops before catching the 25 bus from Starbucks to the port to start our way home. At the port we found some compact folding bikes and started thinking how handy they would be in an aeroplane.
The ferry to Hong Kong airport follows the same route as the new Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau bridge, as seen by the construction of many hundreds of piles. This will be the longest sea bridge in the world.
It was nice to relax on the Airbus A380 for our overnight return trip. What a week!
- Report and photographs by Noel Bailey
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