Million dollar aircraft deal
NEARLY three decades after building his first plane, Ballina businessman Howard Hughes is still flying high in light-aircraft design and construction, signing a deal worth millions of dollars with a Chinese company.
Hughes Engineering has entered a multi-faceted agreement with Hebei Soar, a firm in northern China, to build the SP2000, an Australian Light Wing model that has been produced in Ballina for six years.
The contract also includes flight training, maintenance and helping to establish flying clubs.
"Only in the past two months has the Chinese Government opened up its air space to sports aircraft and we've been making them since 1985," Mr Hughes said yesterday.
"Until now it's all been controlled by the military.
"But they're slowly relinquishing it to private enterprise and over the next two years we will set up anassembly line.
"We will license them to use our technology and designs and we will distribute the product worldwide."
Hughes Engineering, like many other Australian manufacturers, is going into the business of exporting its expertise to a low-cost country to build a product at a competitive price internationally.
"We've previously had a number of approaches from outside Australia but this is the first time we've reached an agreement," Mr Hughes said.
"Hebei Soar approached us and we've been in negotiations for about a year.
"As soon as we received the inquiry we started moving and immediately went about tidying up our act here in Australia.
"A delegation visited Ballina last week and they liked what they saw."
Hughes believes China is aiming to become a world player in the aerospace industry just as it has with other products, including car manufacturing with its competitively-priced Great Wall brand
"We're hoping this deal will lead to other versions of our aircraft being made and down the line we want to develop a six-seater," he said.
"The Chinese sports aircraft scene is where it was in Australia in 1975.
"But over there things can move very quickly."