Zhuhai Airshow: China's Oshkosh

Why the Blue Angels have nothing to worry about.

Zhuhai Airshow

Zhuhai Airshow

Except for the assault vehicles on display, the cruise and shoulder launched missiles, the Vogue-style models sporting paramilitary jumpsuits and dark glasses, and the thousands of security personnel, Airshow China 2012 is pretty much like EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, but only if you don't look too closely.

Called the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition , it is the only international aerospace trade show in China that is endorsed by the Chinese central government. According to the official pamphlet,

“It features the display of real-size products, trade talks, technological exchange and flying display. Since 1996, the show has been successfully held in Zhuhai in every even-number year for eight sessions.”

I’m not sure I saw much in the way of “technological exchange” except for the dozens of attendees taking extreme close-up photos of various parts of our simulators.

Zhuhai is a large city whose downtown is just North of Macau. After landing in Hong Kong, it’s a 90 minute ferry trip and then a short taxi ride to the downtown hotels. The Zhuhai airport is South of Macau, about a 90 minute drive to the tip of the peninsula. The air ahow, itself, pretty well represents the state of aviation in China, that being about 50% military aviation, 20% military equipment, 10% aviation related equipment like hangar lighting, uniforms, etc., and 10% general aviation and training. Aircraft on display behind barriers on the tarmac are mostly airliners and business jets followed by military, vintage military, and then a single small area for general aviation aircraft, mostly LSAs and no U.S. built piston aircraft.

One of the most striking differences between this and, say, Oshkosh is how little actual business seems to be going on. Those of us who exhibit at Oshkosh are there to sell, and we do, taking orders and signing contracts on the spot. Here at Zhuhai exhibiting is all about brand awareness and discussing the possibility of meeting at some future date to discuss the possibility of selling something. Whew! There is an endless lineup of press conferences here announcing agreements to begin talks or ceremonial signings of Memorandums of Understanding. And this is a pretty expensive place to get, what we consider, so little done. Our distributor/dealer in China, AVIC International, spent $30,000US on a 40X40 foot space and then several thousand more to have a display built from scratch. All of these massive displays are built this way and will be torn down and discarded when the show is over. Some startup companies here are spending in excess of $100,000US just to get their name in front of future buyers.

Only the last three days of the show is open to the public, the first three days being reserved for “Trade” and VIP attendees. Those first three days the exhibit halls were extremely loud busy and it was difficult to move around in the halls. The last three, those open to the public, were pure chaos. The crowds jamming our display to experience the simulators got so out of hand that we had to turn the simulators off to regain control. From then on, only VIPs could be allowed into our display area.

Viewing of the flying part of the airshow was hampered by a low smog overcast that stayed with us throughout the week. Besides flyovers by a few of the aircraft on display some helicopters, there were demonstrations by the Air Force of the People’s Liberation Army, the Russian Knights Aerobatic Team, and the European Breitling Aerobatic team. The Blue Angels have nothing to worry about.

Jerry Gregoire is the founder and chairman of Redbird Flight Simulations in Austin, Texas. He is an ATP with thousands of hours in general aviation airplanes, including a type rating in the Cessna Citation CJ, as well as a rotorcraft rating.