SkyCatcher’s ‘Made in China’ label upsets some pilots

The fact that Cessna’s LSA, the SkyCatcher, is being built in China has garnered a lot of attention for the Wichita airplane manufacturer — and not all of it is good.

Many took the company to task for not building the plane in the U.S., but instead choosing the Shenyang Aircraft Company (SAC) in China to manufacture, assemble and test fly the LSAs. Once SAC is finished with its part of the process, the SkyCatchers will be partially disassembled and packed in containers for ocean shipment to the United States. They will be reassembled at a number of Cessna’s authorized service centers, including one in Wichita.

Cessna officials are quick to point out that company employees will be on-site to oversee all operations in China.

“It needs to be understood that the SkyCatcher will be designed, tested, constructed, and serviced to the same Cessna quality standards that enabled us to become the world’s largest manufacturer of general aviation airplanes,” says Tom Aniello, vice president, marketing, in a blog on the Cessna SkyCatcher website. “Cessna backs the SkyCatcher completely, the same as any other aircraft we produce. We have complete confidence that Shenyang Aircraft Company will build the SkyCatcher to Cessna’s rigorous standards for safety, quality, reliability, value, and performance.”

Aniello emphasizes that SAC was chosen only after an exhaustive, worldwide search, noting that the aircraft business is one of the most regulated in the world for quality and safety.

“Our requirements were simple, but aggressive: produce a high-quality aircraft, in very large volumes, which conforms to global safety and performance standards,” Aniello explains. “In addition, to allow the product to be priced competitively in its category, we needed a partner willing to make a significant investment in manufacturing infrastructure.”

SAC will start work on tooling for the SkyCatcher this year, with initial manufacturing expected to start late this year or early next year. Initial production rates call for 150 to 200 aircraft a year, eventually reaching 700 a year, according to Cessna officials.

U.S. pilots also have taken Cessna to task for taking jobs and exporting them outside the country. Cessna quickly countered that charge, however.

“While it seemed to go unnoticed amongst all the recent news events, Cessna announced in November that we will be adding 1,500 new jobs at our U.S.-based facilities in 2008,” Aniello says. “This represents a 10% increase in our global workforce. The biggest challenge we face today as a corporation is filling this demand for qualified employees.”

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