China Preps To Launch Its First Big Passenger Jet. It’s No Threat To Boeing Or Airbus – Yet.


China wants to have its own jumbo jet.After spending decades fertilizing the pockets of overseas manufacturers, Boeing
Bachelor of Arts
Like Airbus, the Chinese Communist Party, in its 2006 five-year plan, decided to devote all its resources to supplying domestically produced aircraft for one of the world’s fastest-growing air travel markets.

The result: After 16 years and tens of billions of dollars, a single-aisle airliner called the C919 is parked on the runway, ready to gain Chinese regulatory approval to challenge the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo in the hottest segment of the commercial aircraft market. One of the six test aircraft is expected to be put into service by China Eastern by the end of this year.

Obstacles: Foreign suppliers are reluctant to supply state-of-the-art components due to fears that China will obsolete their technology, so the C919 is not the kind of cutting-edge product that keeps Western competitors awake at night — at least not yet.

“The C919 is yesterday’s technology, available today,” aviation consultant Michael Boyd told Forbes. “At home, the open question is [Chinese Communist Party] will force Chinese airlines to fly these things. “

The Chinese government is believed to have poured an eye-popping amount of money into the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), which has been tasked with developing the C919, as well as a small regional jet and wide-body airliner already on the market in partnership with Russia. Very little.Scott Kennedy, a China economics expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, estimates that COMAC has received Between $49 billion and $72 billion Established from 2008 to 2020. Six years after the C919 is expected to enter service, any commercial logic the project may have initially had has taken a back seat to politics and national pride, Western observers say.

“Xi Jinping is basically attached to this plane,” Kennedy told Forbes. “As long as they produce an aircraft, it doesn’t matter what the price tag or timing of it is.”

While the Chinese-made fuselage and wings may be adorned with a Chinese flag, what differentiates planes these days is the technology inside — for which COMAC has to rely heavily on foreign suppliers.Listed among about 80 major suppliers Airframer.com Kennedy noted that for C919, only seven are Chinese companies, and seven are Sino-foreign joint ventures.

While it is unclear what level of technology the Western companies are offering, it is believed to have been underscored by federal prosecutions last year due to a reluctance to help Chinese rivals grow and concerns over intellectual property theft. Chinese spy who targeted aerospace companies. “Vendors must be desperate to deliver the latest and greatest,” said Richard Aboulafia, a consultant at AeroDynamic Advisory.

Perhaps the most important part – the engine – comes from GE’s joint venture CFM
General Electric
and France’s Safran. CFM says the C919’s engine is a variant of the company’s top-of-the-line LEAP engine. Aboulafia suspects that it is actually an upgraded version of the old CFM56. A Chinese state-owned company is also developing engines for the C919.

Thanks in part to Layer 2 technology, the C919 lags far behind in one of the key areas of performance: range. The airliner will be able to fly about 2,500 nautical miles, about a third less than the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX, COMAC said.

That rules out the use of the C919 on hundreds of routes around the world already served by the A320 and 737 MAX, which Boyd said would be a deal-killer for selling the plane overseas.

The list price for the C919 may be lower — 653 million yuan, about $90 million, but it is expensive and time-consuming for airlines to train pilots and mechanics to switch to the new aircraft type, Boyd said. “Without any corresponding operational cost reduction or performance advantage over the A320 or 737, there is zero business sense in buying the C919,” he said.

COMAC has announced hundreds of domestic orders for the C919, but these orders are heavily skewed towards Chinese financial institutions. “It’s all about helping the team,” Kennedy said. Observers are skeptical of the reliability of many of the orders, as well as COMAC’s ability to ramp up production quickly. Aerospace consultancy Thiel Group expects to produce 39 planes by 2029.

The Chinese economy may be slowing and Covid restrictions are curbing travel, but many industry watchers still expect Chinese airlines to need a lot of Western planes in the long run. Boeing forecast China is expected to receive 8,485 passenger aircraft over the next 20 years, accounting for about 20% of the global market.

Boeing’s likely share of that is questionable, as the Chinese government froze deliveries of the U.S. company’s planes in the country following the crashes of two MAX jets and the U.S.-China trade war that began during the Trump administration.

The trade war has caused the C919 to delay reaching the regulatory finish line. Since late 2020, the U.S. government has required U.S. companies to apply for special licenses to export to any entity linked to the Chinese military.

One risk the Chinese government faces is that it could shut down parts sales altogether if the U.S. becomes frustrated with what it sees as unfair competition, such as requiring Chinese airlines to buy domestic planes. The warning comes after Canada last year refused to approve an export license for engines built by Pratt & Whitney Canada for the 80-seat turboprop developed for Xi’an Aircraft Industry Corporation. Aboulafia estimates that it will take China 10 to 15 years to transform the C919 into all-China content.

The optimistic view is that the C919 is an expensive down payment for a foothold in the aerospace industry, which will lead to better technology development in the future, but the long-term development time of the aerospace industry means it won’t pay off anytime soon, Kennedy said, in contrast to China’s Successfully climbing the value chain in fast-paced industries such as wireless telecommunications equipment is different. “It’s going to look like a white elephant for a long time.”

Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said last year that COMAC would take time to demonstrate the reliability and maturity of the C919, but he expected it to take at least some market share. “We could go from a duopoly to a triopoly by the end of the century,” he said.

Boyd believes that China’s commercial aerospace industry is still largely in its first phase.

“China is not far behind in the airliner program,” he said. “Actually, they haven’t started yet.”



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