On Tuesday, on the eve of China’s 10th Zhuhai Airshow, California-based Coptervision placed an order for 20 Y-12s, a 19-seat turboprop.
“This purchase marks the first time for any Chinese-made planes to enter an advanced market, and the U.S. has the highest standards, so this testifies to the achievement of Chinese aircraft manufacturing,” said Li Xianzhe of Avicopter to the South China Morning Post. Avicopter is the general aviation subsidiary of the Y-12’s manufacturer, Aviation Industry Corp. of China.
Four of the Coptervision orders are for the Y-12F. This model, the most recent version of the Chinese workhorse, has not yet received FAA certification. The utility plane will get that “in half a year hopefully,” Li says. The balance of the order is for the Y-12E, certified in 2006. The Y-12 is the only FAA-certified Chinese civil aircraft, according to Li.
China, which hasn’t yet been able to make a car good enough for the American market, is now selling planes there. So is the Y-12 safe to ferry tourists over the Grand Canyon, Coptervision’s primary intended use for its Chinese purchases?
The Y-12 has crashed numerous times outside China, but most of the incidents do not appear to be the result of problems with the craft itself. There is probably nothing so reliable in the air as a time-tested model.
The Y-12, the first plane the People’s Republic sold abroad, has been around since the 1980s. The first export was to Sri Lanka in 1986. Since then, Y-12s have been delivered to customers in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. More than 130 Y-12s have been sold abroad according to Zhao Lei, Avicopter’s director of sales of civil aviation aircraft.
And there is another factor in the Y-12F’s favor: although this is called a “Chinese” plane, the critical components are North American. The turboprops are from Pratt & Whitney Canada; the avionics are Honeywell’s; the propellers from Ohio-based Hartzell.
What did China add to the mix? “Chinese companies were responsible for the design of Y-12F’s undercarriage, and overall integration of the whole aircraft,” states People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper.
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