Small Chinese Firm Seeks to Buy Hawker Beechcraft

Hawker Beechcraft — which sought bankruptcy protection in May — has struck a deal to sell its civilian aircraft operations to a small Chinese aviation company for $1.79 billion.

Superior Aviation is a Beijing-based company that has agreed to pay $50 million for exclusive negotiating rights for 45 days to work out a purchase of Hawker Beechcraft’s corporate jet and propeller plane operations, according to the Economic Weekly. The firm’s defense division would presumably not be included in the deal. If Hawker manages to sell that division, it would be obliged to refund $400 million of the purchase price to Superior

“If everything goes smoothly, the acquisition will be completed in two to three months,” said a Superior executive Qian Yuanchun.

The deal has come as a surprise to analysts on both sides of the Pacific. Superior is a relatively small, young and obscure company. The prospects of it being able to finance a $1.8-billion acquisition raised eyebrows. Analysts also expressed skepticism over the prospects of such a small firm being able to provide the management needed to turn around a larger, better-known US aviation firm.

Hawker Beechcraft is struggling to stay afloat due to declining demand brought on by the financial crisis and the firm’s failure to invest in research and development over the years to keep up with competitors. Several analysts have declared that $1.79 billion is a high price to pay for a company struggling to survive.

Qian insisted that $1.79 billion is a reasonable price for the assets of Hawker Beechcraft which was formed in 2007 after Goldman Sachs and Onex Corp bought Raytheon Aircraft from Raytheon for $3.3 billion.

In China Cao Jianhai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, sees undue risk for a private Chinese firm with limited resources trying to take on the difficult task of trying to turn around a US company that’s already in dire straits. The burden of reviving the company is even heavier because it has about 18,000 employees whose pension fund is underfunded by an estimated $750 million.

What’s more, on Monday the firm’s machinists union filed an objection to the proposed sales of exclusive negotiation rights to Superior on the ground that it would jeopardize jobs in the US and that it would pose a national security threat. The bankruptcy judge is scheduled to grant or deny approval of the proposed agreement at a hearing on Tuesday.

But the biggest hurdle may be deeply ingrained prejudices in the US against the sale of any firm perceived as having an potential military or strategic benefit for China. Any deal that is struck will have to pass muster with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and other federal regulatory bodies. The reception given Superior’s bid will be a gauge of US sincerity in its expressed desire to turn a rivalry into a partnership.