Written by Rob Paix

China is already well on its way to replacing the USA as the world’s largest aviation market in terms of airline passenger numbers. Now, China is getting ready for a boom in the general aviation (GA) market. GA basically refers to all non-airline and non-military aviation, a market in which Xi’an is playing a major role. Both geographically and metaphorically central to the development of GA in China, Xi’an has been compared to the US city of Wichita, Kansas, home to major aviation companies like Cessna, Beechcraft and Spirit Aerosystems. The association between Xi’an and Wichita is not just a mental one. In July 2014, the two cities signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on development of economic and trade opportunities around aviation. Before that, Wichita mayor Carl Brewer had given an address at the China International General Aviation Convention hosted by Xi’an in 2013.
Xi’an’s emergence as a center for aviation can be traced back to its prominence during the Anti-Japanese War and its selection as the site for key military
establishments. A large and well-resourced city, it was centrally located with good connections to the large cities of the east, but far enough inland to be less vulnerable to attack. In 1958, Xi’an’s Yanliang District saw the establishment of the military aviation-focused “Factory 172.” Yanliang went on to become the first China Aviation Industrial Base (CAIB), an aviation hi-tech industry development platform established by the State. Xi’an’s suite of aviation and aerospace resources now includes ten education and training platforms, including Xi’an Aeronautical University (西安航空学院) and Northwestern Polytechnical University (西北工业大学), more than 20 R&D institutions such as the AVIC Aircraft Design Institute (中航工业第一飞机设计研究院) and numerous national laboratories.
In greater Xi’an there are now more than 500 foreign and Chinese aviation and aerospace related companies. A significant number of these are General Aviation companies. Shaanxi Jinggong General Aviation Company (精功通航), for example, is involved in pilot training, aerial touring, aircraft maintenance, flying clubs and sky diving. Another Xi’an company has been established to assemble and market the Challenger Light Sport Aircraft (挑战者轻型飞机), originally from North America, with a production line being set up in “Aerospace Town” (航天成), located south of the TV tower. Helicopters are also part of the GA scene. The Xi’an Helicopter Company (西直公司) operates Eurocopters, Russian Kamov helicopters and American Robinson helicopters in a range of areas including search and rescue, medevac, firefighting, mineral exploration, aerial photography and mapping.
These companies and many more will be there with their airplanes at the Xi’an Air Show, which forms part of the China International General Aviation Convention, to be held October 15-19. Come out and experience for yourself the “Wichita of China!”
Rob Paix is founder and manager of XL Consulting China, a Xi’an-based translation and consulting company specializing in aviation, business management and the environment.