China Aeronautical Market may be massive, but it also may be Inscrutable

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The quote, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” was used by Winston Churchill to describe Russia in 1939. The characterization aptly depicts many of the USA bilateral airworthiness relationships with the countries with such agreements. Churchill’s phrase would work particularly well for the FAA- Civil Aviation Administration of China.

As noted in the attached article, part of the complexity is attributable to perfectly normal cultural differences. Another blockage can be traced to inadequate staffing both in terms of technical competence and training. As Walter Desrosier, vice president of engineering and maintenance for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association said, “The CAAC is not structured and resourced for the volume…The CAAC is [hiring more staff], but not necessarily to align with international manufacturers.”

The FAA and CAAC executed their basic Bilateral Airworthiness Safety Agreement in 1991, but it only recognizes the Chinese certification of aircraft of 12,500 pounds or less. The next step is for both authorities to review and accept the certification competences of the other; a Schedule of Implementation Procedures was penned in 2003 and the progress towards full acceptance has not been very visible. Part of the reason for the FAA’s deliberate speed may be the FAA’s concerns about the CAAC’s capabilities, which are getting better.

The attached article suggests that some of the FAA’s reluctance derives from extraordinary requests for data by the CAAC. A General Accountability Office report found “China often makes requests for data and detailed product design information that in their view are not necessary for an approval, and sometimes holds up approvals until those requests are fulfilled.” [The issue of China’s tendency to ignore US and international property rights is not new in aviation.] FAA’s Director of Aircraft Certification Service Dorenda Baker, testified at that same hearing held by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on January 21, 2015. She made it clear that the CAAC’s failure to observe intellectual property boundaries by saying that any advance in the Implementation Procedures Agreement must “…reduce the level of involvement of the CAAC in conducting approvals and prevent its certification staff from doing extensive research for each approval project.”

As with all exercises of governmental discretion, while the standards may be set on paper, there is much authority which is wielded in the penumbra of power. Several of the US companies quoted in the AINOnline piece mention their development of relationships with the CAAC professional staff as a factor in moving their requests for Chinese recognition of FAA certifications. The ability to speak the same language literally and figuratively is essential to working through the intricate procedures of any such authority, but particularly CAAC.

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