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A Chinese conglomerate has bought majority control of Diamond Aircraft's London, Ontario, factory, the company confirmed today. Wanfeng Aviation, a subsidiary of a larger holding company, completed a deal on Dec. 13 that conveys 60 percent of Diamond Aircraft Canada to Wanfeng. Diamond's Austria company remains unaffected by the agreement, except some production will be moved from Austria to Canada.

Peter Maurer, Diamond Canada CEO, told AVweb Tuesday that the new DA62 twin and DA40 single--both the diesel and gasoline version--will be moved to Canada in their entirety. Heretofore, the aircraft components have been manufactured in Austria and shipped to London for final assembly. Maurer said the factory in London will expand its production capability and workforce to manufacture those aircraft. The DA20 single will continue to be built in Canada.

Meanwhile, Diamond Austria will continue to build the DA42 twin and other aircraft in its developmental works. The company's service networks will remain in place, Maurer said. Significantly, Diamond Canada will retain rights to the suspended single-engine D-Jet, which has been under development since 2005. Maurer said substantial work has been done on the project and that it will be reviewed for possible resumption. 

Wanfeng is based in Zhejiang and includes aircraft manufacturing, robotics and financial services in its business portfolio. Diamond currently manufactures aircraft in China, but the Wanfeng deal has no bearing on that operation.

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It’s been a long road for Cirrus to produce their first jet, but on Monday the company delivered a Vision jet to a customer, at a ceremony in Duluth, Minnesota. “It’s a major milestone to deliver the first airplane,” said Cirrus CEO Dale Klapmeier, according to the local BusinessNorth report. “This is a major step in the growth of our company.” The aircraft was delivered to Joe Whisenhunt, an Arkansas real estate developer who has previously owned 10 Cirrus airplanes. About 800 employees and company friends filled the hall at the company’s new 60,000-square-foot finishing facility. The single-engine jet was FAA certified in October. Cirrus says it has about 600 orders for the jet, which sells for about $2 million. 

Besides delivering the airplane, Monday night’s event also officially opened the finishing facility, which is owned by the city of Duluth. The state of Minnesota invested about $4 million in the building, and Cirrus has committed to a $6 million lease, according to BusinessNorth. Cirrus first launched the jet project more than 10 years ago, and then put it on hold for a while, until new owners from China came through with the funds in 2011 to bring it to certification. It’s the first jet airplane with a full-aircraft parachute, similar to the ones that have proved popular on the Cirrus piston airplanes, which have been credited with helping to improve the fatal accident rate in the fleet.

Boeing and Saab flew their T-X trainer for the first time on Tuesday and officially entered the race to provide the Air Force with its next generation training platform. The single-engine twin-tailed jet took off from Boeing’s facility in St. Louis for a flight that lasted 55 minutes and covered basic flight characteristics. Boeing lead test pilot Steve Schmidt was joined by Chief Pilot for Air Force Programs Dan Draeger, who was in the rear instructor seat. “The aircraft met all expectations,” said Schmidt. It’s well designed and offers superior handling characteristics. The cockpit is intuitive, spacious and adjustable, so everything is within easy reach.” Draeger said his back seat view was ideal. “I had a great all-around view throughout the flight from the instructor’s seat, which is critical during training,” he said.

The Boeing/Saab offering is the third official entrant to a competition that hasn’t even been officially approved. The Air Force needs a replacement for the 60-year-old T-38, which can’t teach all of the skills the pilots of F-35s and F-22s need. The Air Force has put off the procurement repeatedly but it will happen eventually. When it does, there will be at least five contenders besides the T-X. Lockheed Martin, Korean Airspace Industries, Northrop Grumman and Textron Airland are all in the hunt.

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Colton Harris-Moore, whose two-year teenage crime spree included the theft of several small airplanes -- which he had taught himself to fly from manuals and videos -- pled guilty in 2011 to 33 counts of burglary and theft, and now has served his sentence and is seeking funds through GoFundMe to start his legitimate flying career. “Something that I think should be said right out of the gate is that, this is not a sad story,” Harris-Moore writes at the GoFundMe site. “This is about airplanes!” Now 25 and living in Seattle, Harris-Moore says he has “tried to keep a low profile” since his release from prison in September, but feels the time is right to pursue his dream of a flying career. “Believe me, I love airplanes, but I will never steal one or break the law again,” he writes.

Harris-Moore breaks down the amounts he will need to get all his ratings at local flight schools, from private pilot to commercial, instrument, and CFI, in both airplanes and helicopters, and comes up with $125,496. He said he hopes to raise the money quickly so he can start training and get a job as soon as he is done. He expects the training will take several months, and then he’ll apply for a job as a helicopter medevac pilot. Harris-Moore paid restitution to the victims of his crimes after selling movie rights to Sony, according to Seattle’s King5 news station. 

By the end of the day, however, the fundraising effort had been put on hold. "Well, I guess I spoke too soon," Harris-Moore posted in an update at the GoFundMe site. "They requested that I PAUSE donations until they can approve the GoFundMe. So, that's what I have done. It may take a week or two for them to approve this, so please be patient! Remember I am still on probation and still have to jump through the hoops! I'll do whatever it takes!" $1,575 was raised from 32 donors before the hold took effect.

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Last month, the FAA said it was de-certifying some NavWorx ADS-B units, which have been the subject of an ongoing dispute, and now NavWorx President Bill Moffitt has issued a statement to customers and dealers claiming that the FAA has “sabotaged” NavWorx’s business. The problems began, Moffitt says, when the FAA implemented a service change in January that affects the data received by certain transponders. About 700 NavWorx customers have installed these products, which no longer are able to display all of the airborne traffic. Moffitt says the FAA approved its plans for the product, but since making the system change, the FAA has been unresponsive to NavWorx’s efforts to fix the problem.

The statement details a number of efforts the company has made to solve the problem, including replacing the internal GPS module, but the FAA "never showed up" to witness the testing. “We can only conclude that the FAA is deliberately sabotaging our business,” Moffitt says. “The FAA has a mandate to create a safe National Airspace System (NAS), but instead have created an on-going risk of mid-air collisions for our 700 certified systems for almost a year now.” The FAA said, in its emergency order last month, that NavWorx has “declined on repeated occasions to allow FAA personnel to conduct the required inspections.”

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Embraer has created a new business unit that will focus on services and customer support, the company announced on Tuesday. “The new business will bring together capabilities that are currently spread throughout different business areas to offer customers a broad portfolio of solutions,” said CEO Paulo Cesar Silva. “We see an opportunity to expand and integrate services and support.” The new unit will be led by Johann Bordais, who has been with the company since 2000.

“We are in a long-cycle business that is naturally demanding on services,” Bordais said. “For the customer, this initiative combines a long experience in customer service, with the agility and competitiveness of a service center.” There are currently about 2,000 Embraer commercial aircraft in operation around the world, plus about 1,000 executive jets.

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As 2016 stumbles to the finish line, it will close with one dubious achievement: A record number of U.S. companies have been bought by foreign investors and leading the charge is China. According to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., just three years ago, Chinese interests acquired 43 companies. In 2015, the total was 103, according to the Rhodium Group, which tracks such things.

For 2016, China interests invested $40 billion by the first quarter alone, more than twice the total for all of 2015. This week's announcement that China’s Wanfeng Auto Holding Group bought a controlling share in Diamond Aircraft Industries in London, Ontario, makes us recall that the U.S. general aviation industry is dominated by Chinese holdings.

Let’s review: In 2010, China’s AVIC International bought Continental Motors for $186 million; Superior Airparts, a major PMA supplier, was bought later that same year by a Chinese technology group; Cirrus was bought by China’s Aviation Industry General Aircraft in 2011 for $210 million; a private investment consortium including the Meijing Group bought Mooney in 2013 for an undisclosed amount; the bankrupt Thielert Aircraft Engines was bought by Continental Motors and became Chinese-owned in 2013; in May of 2015, Continental scooped up Danbury Aerospace, the parent of Engine Components International, a major PMA house; in 2012, Glasair Aviation was bought by Fang Tieji, chairman of Hanxing Group Ltd.

This doesn’t count Chinese investment in U.S. aviation companies that aren’t admitting it, nor does it include the major joint ventures such as GE’s partnering with AVIC and Airbus’ manufacturing position in China. Diamond manufactures in China, too. Some deals have gotten away for security and regulatory reasons. China sniffed around Hawker Beechcraft, for example, but that deal collapsed. So, I’m sure, have lesser deals we haven’t heard about.

What’s one to think of all this? The first thought is this: The Chinese have drawn a bright line between what industries they think represent the future and what U.S. investors believe in. China’s economyis centrally planned and the last five-year plan, the 12th, emphasized infrastructure, including aviation. China’s Xi Jinping has been quoted as saying certain industries—technology, information systems, aviation, alternative energy—represent the high ground of the 21st century.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anyone who’s saying general aviation is a high-ground industry in the U.S. It’s closer to a sunset than a green shoot. It’s different in China. Aviation at all levels there is emerging and even if it’s not growing as fast as many in the U.S. hoped it would when they developed their “China plans” a decade ago, the potential remains. Westerners working in the Chinese-acquired companies have told me the Chinese have a long view and realize that building a general aviation infrastructure will take years and billions of yuan. And if they buy it at fire sale prices from a country--that would be us-- more interested in short-term gains from credit default swaps and securitized mortgages, why wouldn’t they? To me, it’s just about that simple. I don’t have much animus for the companies that sell because I know most have tried other options to raise capital.

Even ahead of the recently concluded election, the political class has expressed some alarm at the level of Chinese investment. Once 2016’s numbers are tallied, expect to hear a sustained howl. The incoming administration has made a campaign touchpoint of both containing China and tilting toward protectionist economic and industrial policy. That means the next year four years are going to get interesting.

Recall that Cirrus shopped the company for several years before the Chinese stepped up. Western and even Middle Eastern investors were evidently looking for a bigger return than Cirrus could ever deliver. Same applies to Mooney. If the Chinese ATM hadn’t disgorged, do you think Cirrus could have completed its jet project or Mooney would have embarked on a factory remodel and the new M10 trainers? Both of those projects, I’ll point out, created jobs in the U.S., even if there’s no guarantee they’ll stay here. Also, note that Diamond says it will review its suspended D-jet program following the new investment.

We’ll now see if new U.S. economic policy can entice onshore capital to invest in industrial expansion more widely, including aviation. I’m all for limiting foreign investment in sensitive areas of the economy where it could erode key U.S. strengths and competitiveness, but if protectionist policy squeezes investment dollars, where’s the money going to come from? I doubt if the government will be investing, so that leaves commercial and private capital which, heretofore, has viewed little airplane projects as the cute money pits they often are. It’s no stretch to say Chinese investment, palatable or not, has been instrumental in keeping GA manufacturing alive in the U.S. On the commerical side, in September, Boeing said China will buy more than 6800 aircraft during the next 20 years. That's more than $1 trillion in business. 

And that leads to the full-circle portion of today’s commentary. Remember the mid-1980s when we were all freaking out because the Japanese were buying U.S. real estate? It was quite the panic. Then the bubble burst and the Japanese lost their kimonos. That’s another way of saying just because certain investors see GA as a poor risk, doesn’t mean they’re wrong. The Chinese are buying airplane companies for reasons other than handsome P&Ls. Our kids will get to see if the long game pays off, if they even care enough about airplanes by then to notice.

With action cams becoming ever more affordable, it's easy to shoot great aviation video. But you'll need some equipment to mount the camera and in this AVweb video, Paul Bertorelli reviews the top mount options.

 

Pilots tend to be optimists. To be otherwise would bring into question our fantasies of cruising above the planet while sporting little more than wings braced with the aeronautical savvy needed to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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