Why Mooney Aviation Should Forget the China Market


Mooney International has made the first flight of the M10T proof-of-concept trainer aircraft. Certification is expected in the next few years.

Alton Marsh
Mooney M10T Trainer Makes First Flight
AOPA
December 23, 2015

There is a lot of excitement in China around the Mooney M10, a small diesel-powered airplane, for reasons originally flagged by Michele Travierso in Wired about a year ago (see “The American Diesel Plane that Could Bring Private Flight to China,” November 11, 2014).

First, the Mooney brand and its related assets were acquired in 2013 by Zhengzhou-based real estate developer Meijing Group. While the company is still US-based, it is, in ownership at least, a Chinese company.

Second, the M10 will be primarily manufactured in China after it is certified by the FAA and, presumably, the Chinese authorities as well.

Third, the aircraft is ostensibly targeted at the long-nascent Chinese general aviation market. Boasting a unique diesel engine, the plane would be cheaper to fuel in China (where standard aviation fuel can cost up to four times its US price), and the use of diesel would give the plane a 500 mile range – critical in a market where civil airfields are still depressingly rare.

The folks at Mooney have a fine-looking aircraft, but it is a very long way from changing aviation in China.

The plane’s primary advantage – the cost of fuel – is the result of the relative immaturity of the general aviation. There is not a lot of demand for Avgas (as opposed to jet fuel) in the market, so little is made, and the product is sold at a premium. If suddenly there were thousands, or even hundreds, of private aircraft in China, the economics of Avgas production and distribution would begin to narrow the gap between the cost of diesel and avgas.

What is more, the primary challenge for general aviation in China (defined as all aviation other than military and scheduled commercial airlines) has little to do with the price of fuel. The biggest problem remains air. The Chinese Communist Party has placed control of China’s airspace over military rather than civilian authorities. For its own reasons, the PLA is parsimonious with airspace, and wresting control of a piece of the sky for private aviation has been a difficult battle.

Airports are another issue. China has just over 250 non-military airports for the entire country. By comparison, with a similar geographic area, the US has more than 5,000 airports, and Euorpe has 3,900. What is more, few of those airports have the facilities necessary to service general aviation aircraft.

Finally, any new aircraft would face a market filled with formidable competitors. Textron Aviation, owner of Cessna, Beechcraft, and Hawker, already has deep ties in the country and broad product lines more attuned with both the business aviation and training/education markets. And Cirrus Aircraft, with its reputable SR series, is now owned by China’s largest aircraft manufacturer. All of these players will see Mooney coming, as any sales are still years away.

Even with its new pedigree as a Chinese manufacturer, Mooney faces an unenviable uphill battle. China is a market that tends to favor giants over upstarts, even its own, and that applies double for aviation. Mooney would be better off finding a way to build the plane in China, but focus on markets where the local competition was not so well positioned to crush it.