The negotiations with the Chinese in China were headed by Mr Xu Zheng-Le the director of the China Aviation Supplies Corporation. Needless to say the negotiations were interesting. Initially a very special price was decided for thirty aircraft but just as that seemed settled Zheng-Le reduced the order to only twelve at the same price and dangled the now classic carrot of the potential size of the Chinese market and how a few orders today might lead to a flood tomorrow. In the end only eight aircraft were actually signed for, on February 5, 1985. The value of the deal was estimated at $40 million. Shorts' Chairman Phillip Foreman said:
"I hope that this will be the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship with CAAC."
It was not however to be. As ATR found in the 1990s the carrot was an illusion and there were never any further sales for Shorts in China.
As part of the deal Shorts agreed to convert 40 Chinese pilots to fly the SD-360. Shorts insisted that the pilots have turboprop experience however the Chinese considered the pilot's log books to be state secrets so this could not be verified in advance. When the pilots arrived in the Uk it was swiftly obvious they had no turboprop experience and had mostly flown single engine crop dusters. Shorts was forced to send them to a British flying school before letting them near the new aircraft!
Entertainingly the pilots arrived in Belfast with $50,000 to cover their living expenses. However suspicious of westerners they refused Shorts offer to look after the money and instead gave it to the Hong Kong-Chinese manager of the little hotel they were staying at. He duly absconded with the money leaving the pilot red-faced and their bosses in China embarrased. Fortunately the wayward hotel manager was caught at Heathrow trying to escape the country.
The eight aircraft were registered B-3601-3608, ferried to China and based initially in Wuhan. However soon after their arrival one of the aircraft, B-3606, was written off on October 22, 1985. The pilot was making his approach at Enshi but when it was obvious he was too high and fast he refused air traffic control calls to go around and landed anyway. The result was he landed half way down the runway, overran and went through a brick wall demolishing an empty school. Apparently at the time it was considered a loss of face to go around and Chinese pilots would often prefer to chance it rather than take the best course of action.
As the CAAC was broken up China Southern inherited 3 of the remaining Shorts (B-3605/7 & 8) with China Eastern taking the other 4 (B-3601-4). An image of a China Eastern Shorts can be found here. They operated initially from Shanghai and later Wuhan. B-3608 originally flew as G-14-3675 and then G-BLYH prior to delivery to China. The Three Shorts were removed from service near the end of 1994 and this aircraft was broken up at Guangzhou in 2002. Its two sisters became HI-657CT and HI-658CT with SA Profesionales of the Dominican Republic.
China Eastern's Shorts also appear to have been removed from service around 1994 and three (B-3602-4) ended up with Islena Airlines of Honduras (now Avianca Honduras) as HR-IAQ, IAT and IAW. Their other aircraft went to Canada as C-FRIZ.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: