Friday, January 06, 2006

China and the aircraft industry are in the news these days.

When I was at Douglas I knew a number of people who'd worked at the SAIC plant on the MD80s that were built there. In fact there was an article in Life Magazine called Yanks in China which had a lady I worked with right on the cover. A fair number of the fellows who were unmarried came back with Chinese spouses as well-and fine folks they were too.

According to Rich Farino, the quality of the aircraft that were built there was no different than those build at LGB, except that polishing operations were done by hand so as to spread the work to as many people as possible. At the time he was there in the eighties, the power grid in Shanghai was not so good, brownouts and all, and SAIC's ability to supply compressed air for pressurization tests on the ground was barely adequate.

No doubt much has changed in the past fifteen or so years. China presently manufactures some good middling aircraft derived from Soviet and other designs that are well suited to rough and ready conditions. I'm particularly impressed with the Harbin Y-12-a worthy successor to the DHC Twin Otter-and some of the hefty Russian inspired turboprops, mostly because I'm a sucker for anything with propellers on it. Some efforts have been not as positive. The Chinese attempt to reverse engineer the B707 was a convincing flop.

Later on, I worked with some Chinese quality assurance inspectors who were doing acceptance inspections on one of the MD11s they'd bought. They were all good solid working stiffs and they made an impression on me as "can-do" people who knew what they wanted to do, were willing to learn and exchange ideas and methods, and had an attitude toward work that was going to take China a long way in the world. That was in the early nineties, and time has not proved me wrong.

What remains to be seen is when-not if-China will develop the type of production engineering skills that will allow production and certification of larger, world standard aircraft in a cost competitive environment.


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