Ajdovščina, 18 July (STA) - The Slovenian Civil Aviation Agency and its Chinese counterpart signed a technical agreement on Wednesday which recognises Slovenian certificates for planes of the Ajdovščina-based company Pipistrel in China, effectively opening the Chinese market to the ultralight plane maker.
"The agreement opens doors to the Slovenian plane industry and will hopefully also encourage foreign investors to come and start production in Slovenia," said the Slovenian agency's director Žiga B. Koritnik.
Slovenia is the first European country to have such an agreement with China, which only has 23 similar agreements with other countries, said the head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), Yang Zhenmei, who lauded Slovenian know-how and development in plane production.
Kotnik explained that the agreement encompassed eight models of Pipistrel's planes, but it has set up some kind of trust and will also benefit other companies producing planes or plane equipment.
He added that the agency would try to sign another technical agreement on the recognition of Slovenian pilot licences, which would allow training of Chinese pilots in Slovenia.
According to Kotnik, a US delegation also visited Slovenia earlier this week and he hopes Slovenia will be put on the European Aviation Safety Agency's list of plane makers that can sell their products in the US at the end of the year. Moreover, the agency is also striving for similar agreements with South American countries and Russia.
"This is a big step for Pipistrel," the plane maker's director Ivo Boscarol pointed out, arguing that China is the fastest growing market, where a single order could surpass the company's entire 2011 production.
Boscarol stressed that many doors have opened for Pipistrel since the company won a US$ 1.35m NASA prize in the autumn 2011 for its electric four-seater aircraft, the Taurus G4. As a result, the company will need to increase production strongly, he added.
He sees the biggest opportunity for the sale of his company's planes in China in flying schools, which are growing as the air space over China is gradually opening up.
Pipistrel is also considering the development of new and bigger plane models, but Boscarol said the company would need bigger production facilities and a better airstrip in Ajdovščina for this.
Kotnik noted that a renovation of the Ajdovščina airstrip was among the next tasks and would hopefully be finished by the end of the year.