Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jet Trail: Mcdonnell Struggles for Inroads in China

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jet Trail: Mcdonnell Struggles for Inroads in China

Article excerpt

The meeting had been called to solve a thorny problem on a major project.

But when none of their Chinese counterparts showed up, McDonnell Douglas Corp. officials could only grin and reschedule. The company, the world's third-largest aircraft maker, was staking too much of its future on China's rapidly growing airline industry to walk away.

Douglas is hoping that China's need for as many as 800 new commercial jets in the next 15 years will translate into new sales, countering slow shipments to U.S. airlines.

It has executives stationed at four factories in China helping the nation's government-run China Aero Technology Import/Export Co., or CATIC, build 20 MD-90s for delivery in 1997 and 1998.

Douglas will deliver another 20 planes to CATIC from Long Beach, Calif., as part of the trunk-liner program - so named because the aircraft will generally fly between larger cities in China.

Both sides see the arrangement as a marriage of convenience: CATIC hopes to gain valuable experience in building aircraft. Douglas hopes China's purchases of $35 million worth of planes will help it ride out one of the toughest periods in its 75-year history.

But Douglas officials are finding that things get done differently in China.

Although they considered a meeting they set up in April to be important for coordinating jet assembly among the four Chinese factories, none of the Chinese representatives showed up.

Officials at one factory decided to skip the meeting completely, Douglas officials said.

Another factory refused to fly representatives to the meeting, instead putting them on a train that takes days to creep 1,400 miles through the mountains of southwest China.

"They may be on a train; they may be here tomorrow," said Arlen Marsyla, vice president of McDonnell Douglas China Technical Services, two days after the meeting was supposed to take place.

"Things that would get you fired in the U.S. are in the norm here."

The meeting had been planned to coordinate an enormous task: Millions of pages of data must be translated from English and distributed among the four factories, which are separated by as much as 1,000 miles.

The project also presents problems aerospace engineers usually don't have to consider.

For example, in shipping nose sections of the aircraft - the part of the plane from the front passenger door forward - from a factory in Chengdu to one in Shanghai, Douglas officials realized they were too wide to fit through narrow railroad tunnels along the way.

Instead, they cobbled together a route that meandered through southwest China, keeping shipments in transit for as long as a month.

Technology transfer is a major goal of China's aviation officials, who learned how difficult aircraft construction can be when they carted the wreckage of a Boeing 707 from a mountain crash site and tried to copy it. …

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