Weiguo Huang, chairman of the North Asia General Aviation Investment Management Corp. in Beijing, got a close-up look at Wichita and its general aviation industry for the first time last week.
Huang, one of the investors in Wichita’s new aviation office in Beijing and an entrepreneur, joined Karl Zhao, the office’s chief representative, for a visit to the Air Capital.
Huang wanted to learn more about Wichita’s rich aviation history and the companies that continue to make up the aviation sector.
It was his first trip to the city.
“Wichita people should be so proud of this city’s history,” Huang said through an interpreter. “I think it’s a really big deal.”
The trip is in response to Wichita’s efforts to market local products – including planes, aviation-related services and parts made by Wichita suppliers – to China in an effort to create local jobs and grow the city’s economy, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer has said.
A Wichita Aviation Office of China opened last month in Beijing. A second office, one in Xi’an in central China, is in the works. Brewer and Kansas Global Trade Services president Karyn Page traveled to Beijing for the October opening.
The offices will give Wichita companies a place to work and get assistance in making contacts and connections. When there, they will have a representative, Zhao, to help them.
The Chinese also will have a place to turn.
China’s general aviation industry is in its infancy.
In keeping with plans to develop the industry, China is reforming regulations. Most of the airspace is controlled by the military.
Beginning Dec. 1, the requirement to obtain flight approvals for many general aviation flights within China will be eliminated. General aviation organizations in the U.S. are praising the changes.
Under the new procedures, with some exceptions, operators of general aviation flights will still be required to file flight plans, but they will no longer need to obtain prior approval to fly.
As its industry grows, China will need training, parts, airplanes, infrastructure, fixed base operations and services.
That’s where Wichita comes in, Page said. The effort is to match up Wichita’s businesses, expertise and experiences with what China needs.
“This is about a business opportunity,” she said.
Wichita can provide training for pilots, managers, mechanics, air traffic controllers and others. It also can provide the airplanes and the parts.
“Everything needs developed” in China, Page said. “Everything. I want people to really understand that this does not mean we have to take what Wichita has and transfer it to China. ... It’s not either/or. ... There’s an opportunity. It’s a big opportunity.... It’s not one wins, and the other one loses.”
As an investor in the office, it’s important for Huang to get a comprehensive picture of Wichita’s general aviation industry, Page said.
And it’s important to build relationships.
“I’m going to use the resources in Wichita,” Huang said. “There are so many aviation training centers, and there are manufacturers and universities. I’m going to send people here for training.”
Zhao said Wichita’s office in China is unique. While U.S. states operate offices there to promote trade, he said Wichita is the only city with a trade office in China. It’s also the only office devoted solely to aviation.
“That’s really amazing,” he said.
Wichita plans to open more offices in other cities as demand in China grows, Page said. It also is considering opening a trade processing center to help export Wichita products into China.
Brewer has said none of the public’s tax money has been involved in establishing or operating the offices. Instead they are public-private partnerships, with original equipment manufacturers in Wichita, including Cessna Aircraft and Beechcraft Corp., and the Chinese providing start-up funding. Page and her staff have spent time working on the project.
They’re also working to get funding for ongoing costs.
Huang, Zhao and Page were at Cessna last week to hold a training session on China and its culture.
They also visited city and county offices, the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition and Kansas State University in Salina, which operates aviation training programs.
Wichita is different from what Huang anticipated.
With Wichita’s manufacturing profile, he pictured a city filled with industrial chimneys and skyscrapers.
Instead he found blue sky.
And “there’s so many airplanes,” he said. “The environment. I like it so much.”