With its nationally recognized aerospace program as a focal point, Middle Tennessee State University has joined with other groups in the establishment of an agreement in principle this week to work together to help train Chinese pilots on their new Beechcraft King Air 350 Extended Range airplane currently housed in Smyrna.
Along with state Sen. Bill Ketron, a Republican from Murfreesboro, officials from MTSU, the Civil Aviation Authority in China, China-based Flying Dragon General Aviation Co. Ltd., Franklin-based PacUS LLC and Smyrna-based Corporate Flight Management announced the agreement Thursday during a morning meeting in the new Student Union Building.
Civil Aviation Authority in China officials discussed their interest in helping MTSU and Corporate Flight Management gain approval for training pilots on the new plane.
“We are spreading our wings internationally,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said. “We’ve had this national reputation. Now we’re moving on the international front. And what a country to partner with. The aviation industry in China is about to explode. The airspace is going to fully open. And major companies like FedEx and UPS, they’re just waiting in the wings for this explosion, and MTSU will be in the forefront. “
Mike Vaughn, president of PacUS LLC, orchestrated all parties coming together on the agreement.
“Today, the success is realized,” Vaughn said, sharing that it all began two years ago when MTSU held a general aviation conference with the China National Aerospace University at the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport.
“Since then, our business has grown,” he said. “We are comfortable doing business with China as Tennesseans. Trade is part of our heritage, and we are proud to represent our state through commerce. Today is a milestone for us, and we look forward to more sales and visits from China in the future.”
The Beechcraft King Air will be based in Qinghai, in the foothills of the Tibetan plateau.
The airplane will fly with a rear-tail, boom-mounted magnetometer used for geophysical and geochemical exploration in the Tibetan plateau. Valued at more than $10 million, the U.S. export deal was arranged by PacUS LLC, and its Hong Kong affiliate, CFM China Ltd.
Vaughn added that wheels will be turning in all the application processes “in the next 30 days or so.”
Speaking through interpreter Jenny Wei, an MTSU aerospace graduate student who interns for Corporate Flight Management and PacUS, Chinese team leader Renhao Zhang said he “is excited to be here for the acceptance of the aircraft (King Air),” and “glad to see the cooperation” between all parties.
Zhang represented the Civil Aviation Authority in China Northeast Division. He was joined by fellow Northeast Division associates Bo Liang and Bin Yang, and Guowei Wang of China Flying Dragon during both today’s announcement and their weeklong visit to Middle Tennessee.
Ketron, representing Gov. Bill Haslam, spoke of how this alliance means “the opening of doors and creation of jobs, helping the economy.”
The Civil Aviation Authority in China is the equivalent to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
Ron Ferrara, who is serving as the interim chair of the MTSU aerospace department, said students would benefit from “more exposure to international students, and it might open opportunities for them overseas.”
The airplane is housed at Corporate Flight Management’s hangar at the Smyrna Airport. Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China also is interested in purchasing maintenance services here.
Negotiations for selling the planes began in 2011 when Chinese Aero Geophysical Survey Remote officials visited Tennessee.
The plane, which is the first of its type in China, will be delivered to Harbin, China, for their Aero Geophysical Survey Remote Sensing Center for Land and Resources, a division of China’s Ministry of Natural Resources.
Company officials are currently in Rutherford County for the final on-site inspection before the plane is shipped to China.