Will COMAC Shoot Down Western Aspirations in China?
Shane Laros posted on October 13, 2016 |
Boeing, Airbus see potential threat in Chinese commercial airplanes.
A China Southern Airlines Boeing 787-9. (Image courtesy of Boeing.)
A China Southern Airlines Boeing 787-9. (Image courtesy of Boeing.)
Boeing and Airbus are in competition around the world as the two major manufacturers of commercial airplanes. A particularly lucrative market for both companies is China, which Boeing predicts will become the world’s first trillion-dollar aviation market.

Both companies plan to manufacture aircraft in the country, with Airbus building a facility to deliver wide-body planes, while Boeing has reportedly submitted to the Chinese government plans for a factory in the eastern province of Zhejiang.

China Southern Airlines Co. has recently agreed to purchase twelve 787-9 Dreamliners from Boeing, partially filling the requirements of an expanding middle class and an annual passenger traffic increase of 6.4 percent over the next 20 years. The Chinese economy is showing strong growth, with the expanding middle class pushing it towards more consumption and service, requiring a stronger aviation industry as support.

In fact, Boeing estimates 6,810 new aircraft will be needed by the country by 2035—a need that has not gone unnoticed by the Chinese government and aircraft manufacturers.

Though Boeing and Airbus each hold approximately half the large airliner market share in the country at present, domestic competition is likely the change that balance. In November of last year, state-backed Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) unveiled the C919, China's first narrow-body passenger plane that would compete with Boeing's 737 and Airbus' A320.

Randy Tinseth, VP of marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes has noted that the potential competition has not flown under their radar.

"With such a large domestic base, there is an opportunity for a Chinese aircraft manufacturer,” said Tinseth. "There are areas with COMAC where we're partners, and there are areas where we compete. We will be strong partners and we will be strong competitors."

COMAC C919 Assembly in Shanghai. (Image courtesy of Flightglobal.)
COMAC C919 Assembly in Shanghai. (Image courtesy of Flightglobal.)
"As China transitions to a more consumer-based economy, aviation will play a key role in its economic development," Tinseth added.

China will require additional cargo planes as well, with an estimated 180 new freighters and 410 converted freighters needed over the next two decades.

Whether China’s aviation requirements will be filled by domestic or international supply is yet unknown. What is assured is a strong need for qualified engineers in the manufacturing sector, both at home and abroad.

No doubt that’s part of the reason Boeing recently donated $6 million in STEM education grants to Washington Universities.

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