GABORONE, Botswana — A Chinese aviation company reported progress in its ambitious African expansion plans to set up an aviation training center, two regional marketing offices, two maintenance and support centers, and three spare-parts warehouses to promote sales and maintenance for Chinese-made aircraft.
Speaking at the Aviation Expo China 2015 held in Beijing last month, Zhang Guangjian, general manager of International Aero Development Corp. (IADC), a subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), said the strategy includes the construction of a civilian aviation training center in South Africa, and two maintenance and product support offices in Tanzania and the Republic of Congo. Three warehouses for spare parts also are planned for Kenya, Zimbabwe and the Congo.
The IADC was set up under AVIC to promote global exports of Chinese-made civilian aircraft. The new centers will also promote sales and maintenance services to a large fleet of Chinese-made African military aircraft, including fighter jets, trainers, helicopters and UAVs.
"We plan to use these installations to help our civil aircraft industry expand its presence in Africa's central and northwestern regions. Compared with Western counterparts, our aircraft have proven more suitable for operations in Africa because they are more adaptable to tough use and bad infrastructure. They have enabled our African friends to operate good aircraft at an affordable cost," Zhang said.
AVIC says at least 80 percent of the trainer aircraft fleet operated by African air forces are Chinese-made. These include 24 variants of the Y-12 turbo-prop trainer aircraft, which are operated by several African air forces including Kenya, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Zambia, Uganda, Sudan, Namibia, Tanzania and Eritrea.
The aircraft is produced by China Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corp. AVIC's regional field service center in Nairobi will include a training center and spare parts warehouse meant to provide technical support and after-sale for African customers of the Y-12 military aircraft.
AVIC subsidiary Hongdu Aviation Industry Corp. also established itself on the continent with the 2012 sale of six L-15 trainer jets to Zambia, followed by an order of 12 more L-15s by an unnamed African country during the 2013 Paris Air Show. The customer is widely believed to be Tanzania.
The China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corp., another AVIC subsidiary, has sold 35 variants of its Karakorum K-8 light attack and trainer aircraft to the air forces of Zimbabwe (12), Zambia (16), Ghana (five) and an unspecified number to Sudan.
Other Chinese military aircraft models operated by African air forces include the Chengdu JF-7, the MA-60 and Y-12 turbo-props and Harbin Z-9 helicopters, spread across numerous countries including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritania and Djibouti.
At the Aviation Expo China, AVIC exhibited newer versions of the FC-1 Xiaolong and JF -17 Thunder multirole aircraft for export to global markets.
The company also unveiled a multirole combat UAV called the Wing Loong II. The UAV is a medium-altitude, long-endurance multirole drone capable of performing surveillance and reconnaissance as well as air-to-ground strike. It is manufactured by AVIC subsidiary Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute. Its predecessor, the Wing Loong I, has been sold to African and Middle Eastern countries which include Nigeria, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
Chinese defense and aerospace writer and analyst Wang Yanan said the Wing Loon II will help China to claim a substantial stake of the international UAV market, especially among African and Middle Eastern countries that already operate Chinese aircraft and air defense systems.
“The advanced drone will help China obtain a bigger share in the international market because it will be one of the most capable military drones in the market. The Wing Loong II is equipped with a satellite data link system, so it can operate in an environment with bad ground signals, which means it can be of great use to nations that have vast mountainous areas or plateaus. In addition, the drone will be very attractive to countries that operate the Wing Loong I as they have realized the capabilities and reliability of Chinese-made drones," he said.