For Connecticut's Aerospace Firms, China Mission Sparks Effort To Gain Asia Certification


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When members of a Connecticut delegation met in Shanghai with top officials at the Chinese civilian aerospace manufacturing company recently, they already knew about the Asia certification for selling jet engine and airplane parts into the burgeoning aviation industry of China.

What they didn't know was just how crucial that approval is, for the state's independent manufacturing firms that supply companies such as Pratt & Whitney, and hope to win work making and repairing parts around the world.

The certification, the Asian equivalent of U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approval, is a ticket to what most people think will be the world's fastest growing airplane industry over the next couple of decades.

"I was aware of it," said Anne S. Evans, head of the U.S. Commerce Department export assistance office in Middletown. "But it flies in your face when you're sitting in front of the CEO of the maintenance and repair facility at the Shanghai airport that is owned by Boeing and the Chinese government. … They basically said, 'We are happy to talk to your Connecticut suppliers ... but we need to have the certifications.'"

Since returning a few weeks ago, Evans and others in Connecticut have been working to make that happen for several companies that might benefit from it. Gaining the certification for aviation work isn't easy, even for companies that have FAA approval. And it's expensive, requiring lengthy visits by Chinese officials — so working together to save time and money, with groups such as ConnSTEP, the manufacturing improvement agency, does matter.

The certifications, and the China trip itself, are part of the deeper globalization of an industry in Connecticut that's already global, but needs to be more so.

"We're getting there I believe a little late. Other countries, other parts of the U.S., are on the move," said Denise Merrill, Connecticut's secretary of the state, who headed the delegation and whose title secured meetings with top executives. "They do have Connecticut on their radar."

Some local firms are already in the China market, including AdChem Manufacturing Technologies Inc., a Manchester company that fabricates sheet metal. AdChem makes parts for new engines and has FAA and European certifications, but needs the Asia approval, known as CAAC, to do repair work directly for Chinese firms.

"Every aircraft that is flying in China has to have those certifications," said AdChem President Michael Polo, who was part of the delegation. "You can't get the work unless you get the certifications."

One other aerospace company, Capewell Components of South Windsor, was also on the China trip, which was, Evans and the others said, largely exploratory — to see how members of the Connecticut Aerospace Components Manufacturers industry group might expand there and whether it would be worth planning a larger trade mission with more companies.

For AdChem, which has 48 employees, the issue is also whether to set up manufacturing directly in China, adding to the work it is now doing through Pratt. The major concern? Pirated intellectual property, yes, even in the aerospace industry, not just consumer electronics and recordings.

"They tend to not talk too much about it," Polo said. "But we got the feeling that there are definitely issues, still ... they want us to have a location in China…..That's not something that we would do at this time because we're still not comfortable having the regulations where they should be, so that our intellectual property would not be compromised."

Setting up an AdChem facility in nearby Singapore, where Pratt has a major location, is more likely, Polo said. When Pratt relocated repair work there in 2009 from San Diego, he said, Pratt was able to score more work and AdChem's parts repair, in turn, tripled.

"We're trying to figure out what is the best way to get into the Asian market," he said.

For at least some of the Connecticut suppliers, that means getting the CAAC certification, for which Evans is trying to line up financing.

It would be daunting for a firm going it alone. "I talked to two companies who bailed out of the process," Polo said.

Once the approvals are in hand, folks in Connecticut are optimistic about their chances to gain work. "We have the technical ability to supply almost anything and we made a very good case to the Chinese," Evans said.

The mission, which separately included some biotech work, revealed some of the breathtakingly high-volume construction underway in China as whole cities are rising from the countryside. And meetings with leaders of the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, or COMAC, were of course cordial with all the formality one might expect from high-level Chinese industry visits.

"They definitely rolled out the red carpet to a degree that was surprising," said Merrill, whose title makes many Chinese officials believe she is a top party boss. "They know the companies but they know very little about Connecticut. Yale University is the single most important component of Connecticut throughout China."

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