Chinese firm breaks ground on Arlington plane-building plant

ARLINGTON — Top Cub Aircraft is building a manufacturing facility at Arlington Municipal Airport to make planes for the high-flying China market, an early arrival in what city leaders’ hope will be a thriving manufacturing and industrial center in the future.

For Arlington city councilmember and airport commission liaison Jan Schuette, the ground-breaking just more than a week ago was worth the wait.

“It shows what Arlington can do with international investors,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”

Staff will begin with 15 engineers and technicians when the facility opens toward the end of January, and will grow to 40 as demand dictates, officials said.

Chinese representatives from Top Cub and parent company Liaoning Cub Aircraft Corp. of Yingkou, China, joined city and business leaders for a ceremonial kickoff event.

“Today’s sod-turning ceremony is a new start, as well as a milestone of our company,” said Changjia Ge, Top Cub general manager.

“It’s never easy to set up a new company, especially in a foreign country,” said Changjia, but at every significant step in making the project a reality, city officials, designers and other groups provided support.

Top Cub is one of several modern derivatives of the classic Piper Cub that helped pioneer the small-airplane industry in the 1940s. It is a versatile high-wing, single-engine plane that can be equipped with wheels, floats or skis.

The Top Cub manufactured in Arlington will be sold only in China under an agreement with Yakima-based CubCrafters, which owns the design and manufactures various Cub models for sale in the U.S. and other countries besides China.

Mayor Barb Tolbert said Top Cub will be a welcome addition to the airport.

“We believe that this will be a cornerstone development for our airport, and we’re very excited to welcome you,” she said.

The airport granted a 40-year lease to the company in 2015. HCI Steel Buildings will begin construction of the $2.2 million 35,000-square-foot facility at 17922 59th Drive NE.

For project updates, all HCI officials need to do is look out their headquarter windows – they’re building Top Cub directly across the street.

HCI Steel founder and owner Ted Wheeler said the working relationship with Top Cub has been fantastic.

“We’ve had Changjia Ge and the team come over and visit several times during design over the past year,” said Wheeler, whose company hosted the ground breaking, replete with shovels, hardhats and champagne.

Top Cub will include parts inspection, assembling processes, aircraft maintenance, painting and flight testing, Changjia said. The Top Cub line is the most modern version of the Super Cub, designed to handle heavier loads than its predecessors.

Leo Liu, vice president of Liaoning, said building a facility in a general aviation center like Arlington was an easy choice.

“Arlington is home to aircraft manufacturing, numerous aviation tenants and components suppliers,” Leo said. “Our company has decided to build here, and we hope that our commitment will attract more aerospace manufacturers.”

Changjia said that China is amid its 13th five-year national plan, “and an important component of the plan is opening up general aviation below 19,000 feet.”

A pilot himself, Changjia said student pilots start out flying smaller and lighter aircraft to gain experience in a general aviation market that is expanding to include more short trips as an alternative to ground transportation.

He said he loves flying around Arlington.

After acquiring their Production Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, Top Cub’s goal is to manufacture 20 aircraft the first year at the new facility, company officials said.

Top Cub hopes to ramp up manufacturing to 50 aircraft the following year.

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