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Chinese Military Interested in Dornier Seastar Amphibious Aircraft

February 18, 2016 (Photo Credit: Wendell Minnick)

Originally published 5:22 a.m. ET

SINGAPORE – A new assembly factory in Wuxi, China, will begin manufacturing the multi-purpose Seastar amphibious aircraft, and the Chinese military is expressing interest in the seaplane.

German-based Dornier Seawings GmbH made the announcement about the plans for joint manufacturing in China during a news conference at the Singapore Airshow. State-owned Wuxi Communications Industrial Group and Wuxi Industrial Development Group partnered with Dornier to create Dornier Seawings Company Ltd. in the city of Wuxi, Jiangsu province. 

“A factory is under construction in China and will be open at the end of the year,” said Conrado Dornier, chairman of Dornier Seawings GmbH, Germany. Short- to medium-term production will be in Germany in the beginning, then gradually begin production in China, he said.

Dornier Seawings GmbH in Germany provides the “Seastar program, resources and know-how, while the Chinese partners provide the financial backing and share the entrepreneurial spirit to ensure a proper production set-up and a sustainable business model,” said a Dornier official. Production lines are currently under construction in Germany and China.

Liu Yuhai, chairman of Dornier’s China operation, told Defense News that China is interested in the aircraft.

“We are in communication with the Chinese military,” Liu said.

The Seastar has a range of 1667 kilometers (900 nautical miles) at 333km/hour (180 knots) with an endurance of 7.5 hours. It is capable of both normal runway landings and water landings at sea states of 60cm (2 feet).

As a multi-purpose aircraft, it can be used as a VIP transport, commercial, governmental/special, and corporate missions. Mission versatility includes coast guard operations, search and rescue, border patrol, counter-smuggling measures, fishery enforcement, cargo transport and off-shore operations.

China's interest in the aircraft raises questions as to whether Dornier can export the Seastar's key equipment and systems to China. These include Canada-based Pratt & Whitney’s PT6A – 135A engines, Canada-based Sumitomo SPPCA’s landing gear/wheels and brakes, and US-based Honeywell’s Primus Epic 2.0 Avionics System and Interactive Navigation System.

The US and Canada have had restrictions on the export of defense items to China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. There are also increasing tensions in the South and East China seas with regional neighbors over territorial claims. China’s procurement of amphibious aircraft has increased in recent years as land reclamation projects in the South China Sea expand. China has also threatened to invade the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. 

Albert Halder, Dornier’s president and CEO, said his office would never allow his Chinese partners in Wuxi to sell the aircraft to the military. However, his Chinese partners later reconfirmed the Chinese military is interested in the aircraft.

Amy Pan, administration and human resources director for Dornier’s Wuxi office, said the military market for China is extremely small, but exists. However, since restrictions were lifted on the low altitude air space (3,000 meters/9,800 feet and below) in 2010, the market has largely been for tourism and civil service applications that include border patrol, coast guard, and fishery enforcement, Pan said. As a passenger aircraft it can seat up to 12 commuters.

The Singapore Airshow is being held at the Changi Exhibition Center from Feb. 16-21. 

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