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Old 19th March 2019, 17:14   #1
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Default Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) may be emerging as the next biggest threat to Airbus and Boeing.

Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?-1000x1.jpg

The two big airplane manufacturers are in the process of neutralizing the biggest threats to their dominance in the industry. Airbus purchased the 108 to 133-seater CSeries from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier, while Boeing is in talks to buy 80% of Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.

It is reported that investors overestimated the challenge from Bombardier and Embraer, but they are now underestimating the challenge from Comac, which is run by the Chinese government. With a push from the government, Bombardier and Embraer could have become serious contenders, and this is exactly what China is trying to do.

Called the C919, Comac's rival to the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 took flight for the first time last year. It is estimated that around US$ 7 million of public money has been spent on the single-aisle plane, and that around 1,000 bookings have already been received for the plane from Chinese operators. Comac is also expected to come out with bigger twin-aisle planes that have more range and seat more people. These could fly from Beijing to New York. It is reported that they are developing turboprops, business jets, helicopters and seaplanes. They are also reported to be building a training center for maintenance engineers, flight attendants, and other airline employees.

With more money and a push from the Chinese government, Comac could soon be going head-on against Airbus and Boeing. The company claims that over the next 2 decades, around 9,000 planes worth around US$ 1.3 trillion could be delivered in China.

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Source: The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg

Last edited by Aditya : 20th March 2019 at 17:49.
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Old 19th March 2019, 17:28   #2
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

Wonderful topic. The short answer is a resounding YES. China will become a worthy competitor to Boeing & Airbus just like 5 decades ago Airbus started on a path to take on the then Big 3 of American civil aviation - Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed. We have to only look as far as Embraer who started with a humble unpressurized 19 seater turbo-prop plane in the mid-1970s and went onto becoming the third civil aviation centre after the Big 2. Keeping aside my nationalistic geo-political views on China it will be healthy for our industry to have a fourth player - good for the flying public; more choice for the airlines and lessors; less arm twisting of the hapless vendors. The aviation industry is more de-centralized than even the car industry. Boeing & Airbus are the overall designers, design integrators, assemblers & controllers of the distribution system. The actual production of each part and design thereof is owned by a few thousand independent ancillaries. They are the ones supplying to China and Embraer too. So subject to proper flight & systems testing a well designed well made Chinese airplane should not be too different from an American one. The Chinese Govt will I am sure put all its might and considerable resources behind ensuring its success. The large China market will underwrite their ability to order big and price well.

Last edited by V.Narayan : 19th March 2019 at 17:31.
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Old 19th March 2019, 17:56   #3
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

Great topic and I have no doubt that China/Comac at some point in time will start challenging Airbus-Boeing. If anything for their internal market. Of course, their internal market alone is huge and will put a dent into Boeing/Airbus marketshare because of the sheer size and the fact this is a growth market. So nobody can afford to loose market share in China.

I do have a few observations/comments that will be hindering them big time for years if not decades to come.

Aviation relies on a huge international eco-system of many different partners, entities and individuals. The common language is English. Today very few Chinese, be it parties and or individuals, play a significant role.

It's partly because open knowledge sharing, access to top Western R&D is simply not open to the Chinese, partly due to their own Political system, partly because others (the west) simply does not trust the Chinese. (See the recent issues around Huawei as a 5G Network vendor being banned by governments around the world.)

I recently spend a week in Beijing and I can tell you, English is still a huge problem in China as well. Even in what are high tech industries/companies.

So they lack a lot of experience, insights, sharing etc. Yes, they will develop all the capabilities themselves, but it will take a long time and it will come at a cost as to some extend they will be making mistakes that the rest of the industry already made/rectified.

As always they will simply "borrow and steal" from others outside China that are further ahead.

Jeroen

Last edited by Jeroen : 19th March 2019 at 17:58.
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Old 19th March 2019, 18:47   #4
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

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Old 19th March 2019, 20:06   #5
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

Well, if any country can challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly, it has to be China. They will need that first big customer(s) to start spreading their wings and they have airlines which can support such a project.

However, one must remember that critical components such as engines and avionics will still be western. The development cycle for these is extremely long and incremental in nature. ‘Not trying to re-invent the wheel’ is more apt in aviation than in any other field. However, taking nothing away from COMAC. Successful rollout of a commercial aircraft will still be a huge feat.

The Chinese already assemble the A320 in Tianjin through the Airbus JV. However, it is quite another thing to ‘own’ the design and documentation and be responsible for it. Further, selling it in overseas markets will require many aviation authority approvals, chief being FAA of the US and EASA of Europe, and even within EASA, larger countries will insist on their specific CAA approval. This in itself is not a deal breaker, but adds to the time to market. They are free to sell it exclusively within China and the domestic numbers may even justify this, but not being held to the high international standards may be detrimental in the long run.

China is a manufacturing and construction giant but what remains untested is their ability to support their partners during the product life cycle across cultures and geographies. Building an airplane is only half the battle won. The spare parts support and technical support provided during defects faced by airlines can make or break the program. The Chinese airlines, no matter how nationalistic, will be loathe to indulge an OEM that doesn’t get its act together.

Finally, trust is a huge factor in aviation. Any new entrant will be able to earn this only over time and there are absolutely no short cuts to it. Running an airline is already a very tough job and the last thing you need is an OEM you cannot rely on 24x7. It remains to be seen at what price COMAC will offer the aircraft. If the price differential is not big enough, airlines will see little value in switching from established and trusted players. I am not sure how much leverage COMAC has with the costs, given that expensive components will continue to be manufactured by western companies. The C919 will be pushed to Chinese airlines and to small countries friendly to China, until it can really claim its spot on the world map.
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Old 19th March 2019, 20:18   #6
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

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Originally Posted by V.Narayan View Post
Wonderful topic. The short answer is a resounding YES. China will become a worthy competitor to Boeing & Airbus
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeroen View Post
Great topic and I have no doubt that China/Comac at some point in time will start challenging Airbus-Boeing.
Are you sure about this? The Russians and Brazilians have not been able to get a foothold in the international markets, despite using American or European engines. That is, passenger airline companies can longer blame fuel economy or engine reliability for not opting for Russian passenger jets. Examples:

Sukhoi Superjet 100 (uses French Safran engines and American/European components)

Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?-1037230646.jpg

UAC MC-21 (uses Pratt & Whitney engines)

Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?-4392653.jpg

These two aircraft have few takers outside Russia. And Russian airliners buy these aircraft because they are "encouraged" to do so.
Putin Tells Aeroflot to Buy Russian Planes
http://old.themoscowtimes.com/sitema...es/410154.html

If I was a betting man (well, actually I am), I wouldn't bet too much on the success of Comac aircraft. It is unlikely to sell well outside China.

Last edited by SmartCat : 19th March 2019 at 20:19.
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Old 19th March 2019, 20:46   #7
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

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Are you sure about this? The Russians and Brazilians have not been able to get a foothold in the international markets, despite using American or European engines.

Sukhoi Superjet 100 (uses French Safran engines and American/European components)
UAC MC-21 (uses Pratt & Whitney engines)
Permit me to weigh in. Speaking from a very close direct business association with Embraer and Sukhoi SuperJet over the long term - Embraer is the market leader today in the regional aircraft category i.e. the 70 to 120 seaters with over 1500 airliners built. So I would not say the Brazilians have not cracked the grip of Boeing & Airbus - they went for a segment the biggies were not willing to service and that now is the second fastest growing segment after the 120 to 200 seat one. This is an industry where development cycles and product life cycles are measured in decades and not in years.

Sukhoi have delivered 148 Superjets in 11 years. The weak sales performance is down to abysmal support before and after sales. They claim 301 orders but as an insider I find that impossible to believe. I have no doubt that like Embraer, COMAC too will be a leader tomorrow in airframes. Chinese engines will need another generation to develop fully. Aero engine development cycles are so long and expensive that the only players of consequence are those who got started at the beginning of aviation like Rolls Royce and Pratt & Whitney or at the start of the jet age like GE, or in Russia bureaus such as Lyulka, Klimov, Soloviev etc.
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Old 19th March 2019, 23:42   #8
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

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Originally Posted by Jeroen View Post
Great topic and I have no doubt that China/Comac at some point in time will start challenging Airbus-Boeing.

I do have a few observations/comments that will be hindering them big time for years if not decades to come.

Aviation relies on a huge international eco-system of many different partners, entities and individuals. The common language is English. Today very few Chinese, be it parties and or individuals, play a significant role.

As always they will simply "borrow and steal" from others outside China that are further ahead.

Jeroen
Have to agree with this.

More than any other competing nation in the commercial aviation sector (Russia, Brazil, Japan soon to join) - China with its huge domestic market could upset the applecart for Boeing & Airbus. But will they dominate the export market? I would find this very unlikely - atleast for the next 30 years.

COMAC and AVIC have taken a really long time to get their commercial airplane act together and the Western aerospace firms are intelligent and savvy enough not to transfer their latest technologies to China, which means that Chinese commercial jetliners will lag behind their western counterparts, for the foreseeable future.

It is only after operating their 1st generation jetliners such as ARJ 21 and C929 for atleast 10 years, that Chinese manufacturers will generate the vitally important data needed to build reliability, efficiency and develop future innovations needed to make their 2nd generation aircraft far more appealing to the world market.

Building jetliners for commercial aviation is an extraordinarily difficult business to get into with extremely high entry barriers. It is easier to make a fighter jet as India (Tejas), South Korea (KAI T-50) and Pakistan (JF-17) have done.

But even mighty Japan has been humbled in their effort to develop a regional transport aircraft in the Mitsubishi MRJ.

I highly recommend Richard Aboulafia's monthly newsletters for those interested in aviation - http://www.richardaboulafia.com/newsletters/

Canada's Bombardier which took a risky gamble with the C Series, which was a brilliant airplane and filled with great technology, stumbled and paid the price by not only losing their lead in business jets and regional transport aircraft but ended up selling the C Series programme to Airbus.

It is also very difficult to break into this club as at the end of the day, FAA and EASA will always owe allegiance to aircraft from their respective continents or close industrial partners.

India's efforts to get EASA certification for our very own Dhruv helicopter has been a thorny path and one that has not yet been achieved.

Last edited by Redline6800 : 19th March 2019 at 23:45.
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Old 20th March 2019, 01:46   #9
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

Just wanted to add my 2 bits here. Except the Russians neither the Chinese nor the Brazilians can make a reliable commercial powerplant that can really challenge the established Boeings and Airbuses of this world with GE, PW, RR or a Snecma CFM powerplants. So even if China can come up with world class plane designs that are significantly cheaper they will not succeed mainly due to this reason. So even if they start using a western powerplant they cant be competitive against an established name purely on safety grounds and experience more than anything else because no airline will save money on a cheap plane that has untested or unknown systems and an unproven track record when people's life's are at stake. However a lot of smaller players like foker, bombardier, emabrer are all trying to grab the small aircraft space where the biggies just dont seem interested enough, but even here people will be sceptical about new entrants with hardly any experince or abilities to show.

Russian aircraft as with most russian stuff, are cheap to buy, but are very maintenance intensive with hardly any support for their products, so are generally preferred only by rusian airlines and military.

Even the fighter jet projects started by various countries including India are all dependent on a western powerplant so can hardly be called as pure indegenious efforts. And no, JF17 is not made by Pakistan but is assembled in Pakistan out of a kit sent by China with a Russian powerplant, very much what HAL did for MIG fighter jets for many years i.e. Just Screwdriver giri.
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Old 20th March 2019, 06:00   #10
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

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Originally Posted by Redline6800 View Post
More than any other competing nation in the commercial aviation sector (Russia, Brazil, Japan soon to join) - China with its huge domestic market could upset the applecart for Boeing & Airbus. But will they dominate the export market? I would find this very unlikely - atleast for the next 30 years. COMAC and AVIC have taken a really long time to get their commercial airplane act together and the Western aerospace firms are intelligent and savvy enough not to transfer their latest technologies to China, which means that Chinese commercial jetliners will lag behind their western counterparts, for the foreseeable future. It is only after operating their 1st generation jetliners such as ARJ 21 and C929 for atleast 10 years, that Chinese manufacturers will generate the vitally important data needed to build reliability, efficiency and develop future innovations needed to make their 2nd generation aircraft far more appealing to the world market.
You make some good points. Allow me to offer some counter arguments :-

(1) The Chinese are not fools; while some products they make might be cheap and cheerful most of our laptops and smartphones under American brands are also made in China. They know how to make quality products where needed.

(2) There will be enough third world airlines, other than the vast home market, that will buy the COMAC aircraft in one's and two's where they do not get the full ASS support from the two biggies or where they needed buyers credit to acquire jetliners.

(3) The Chinese don't need to dominate this market nor they ever will. They just need to become one more major player of 4 or 5. The current situation of only two biggies, Airbus & Boeing, is an unnatural state that has existed from 1996 to mid-2010s. Embraer is eating into the regional jet segment and now China is attempting its foray into the mid-sized and regional segments with a large home market to back it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SPARKled View Post
Just wanted to add my 2 bits here. Except the Russians neither the Chinese nor the Brazilians can make a reliable commercial powerplant that can really challenge the established Boeings and Airbuses of this world with GE, PW, RR or a Snecma CFM powerplants. So even if China can come up with world class plane designs that are significantly cheaper they will not succeed mainly due to this reason. So even if they start using a western powerplant they cant be competitive against an established name purely on safety grounds and experience more than anything else because no airline will save money on a cheap plane that has untested or unknown systems and an unproven track record when people's life's are at stake.
You are right in that only the Russians managed to design & build their own commercial jet engines. Some points from my side:-

(4) The West don't have to transfer technology they have to sell the engines just as GE or RR sell engines and mate them to an Airbus or Boeing airframe. I do not see GE or RR or P&W saying we wont mate our engines to your airframe because you are a Chinese company - remember China is also the second largest buyer of commercial jet engines! And if Trump blocks GE and P&W, then RR and the French will fill the gap.

(5) Engines are only the most visible component. Avionics, landing gears and fire suppression equipment are equally complex and tech sensitive. I don't see any OEM refusing to sell its commercial airliner products to COMAC.

(5) I don't think the Chinese will sell it cheaper. Like heart surgeries and kidney transplants airliners too don't sell on the cheap & cheerful sales pitch. They will sell on better credit terms and better ASS terms and as a composite package of - aircraft lease + maintenance package + spares being provided under one deal by one supplier.

All,

We have come to believe that the commercial airliner market being a duopoly is the natural state of things. The present duoply is a function of the collapse of USSR in 1991 and Boeing buying out McDonnell Douglas in 1996. In 1990 we had 2 American, 1 European and 2 Russian OEMs of size. It is an unstable state where only the two biggies existed and picked the segments that suited them (120 seat +) and ignored those that did not (40 to 120 seats). It also resulted in the duopoly squeezing the ancillary suppliers dry (ask me) and this industry runs on the strength of independent specialized suppliers who do their own R&D. Embraer and now COMAC are simply addressing a gap crying out to be filled.

Last edited by V.Narayan : 20th March 2019 at 06:04.
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Old 20th March 2019, 07:59   #11
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

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(2) There will be enough third world airlines, other than the vast home market, that will buy the COMAC aircraft in one's and two's where they do not get the full ASS support from the two biggies or where they needed buyers credit to acquire jetliners.
Correct. China already has built up and is building a large base of third world countries that will be their clients in future for a lot of it's products and services.

They are doing this by bailing them out financially in times of need and locking them into favorable trade agreements. They now have a lot of African countries and some Asian ones in their pocket. Sri Lanka is our nearest example.

These are all ready markets for COMAC.
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Old 20th March 2019, 09:39   #12
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You make some good points. Allow me to offer some counter arguments :-

(1) The Chinese are not fools; while some products they make might be cheap and cheerful most of our laptops and smartphones under American brands are also made in China. They know how to make quality products where needed.

(2) There will be enough third world airlines, other than the vast home market, that will buy the COMAC aircraft in one's and two's where they do not get the full ASS support from the two biggies or where they needed buyers credit to acquire jetliners.

(3) The Chinese don't need to dominate this market nor they ever will. They just need to become one more major player of 4 or 5. The current situation of only two biggies, Airbus & Boeing, is an unnatural state that has existed from 1996 to mid-2010s. Embraer is eating into the regional jet segment and now China is attempting its foray into the mid-sized and regional segments with a large home market to back it.
Yes sir, I agree with the fact that the Chinese dont need to dominate the market. But I guess the point is, will China grow to a level where they have the respect of the world community as an aviation power ?

I would assume that China wants to be seen as an aerospace power, which is why it is investing the tens of billions of dollars to make this happen.

Selling to 3rd world countries in Africa, South America and SE Asia often involve aspects other than economic or business logic (read corruption) - hence sales to these nations are never treated on par with an aircraft sale to a well run airline or lessor in the developed world or in major aviation markets.

To a well run airline, whose business it is to make money, it matters not if the airplane is American, European, Russian, Brazilian, Canadian or Chinese.

They will pick up the most efficient airplane - to my mind state run enterprises in Russia, China and even India will never deliver a competitive airplane in the commercial sector.

Respect in the aviation community cannot be gained by making copycat products of existing western platforms - either in commercial or military aviation.

Embraer succeeded because they targeted a niche, where the only other competitor was Bombardier's CRJ - while Airbus & Boeing chose not to get into this area.

The current state-of-the-art in terms of commercial aviation is not the A320neo and 737 MAX but the A350, 787 and soon to be delivered 777X. In this area, one must consider China at least 20 years behind the west (an eternity in the aerospace industry).

Aviation technology is tightly controlled by the Western powers as this is one area where they have a lead that is almost unbeatable. Even Russia which has a highly advanced aerospace sector has not been able to make a dent in commercial aviation.

Aboulafia puts it best
"That emphasis on state-owned enterprise and heavy-handed commie interference in the economy is good news for China’s national jetliner programs. Like any government industrial products, they will continue to be miserable; perhaps even as bad as the awful ARJ21. They will also be un-exportable, outside of Laos. If you are a Western supplier on these jets, you won’t be in a few years. Local content with copied technology will replace your components, making these jets even worse. It’s what a Marxist economy does.

Meanwhile, there will be greater Chinese government pressure on airlines to buy local jetliners rather than superior imported ones. A local A320 production line and a local 737 completion center won’t be able to compete with brilliant rays of Marxist-Leninist truth.

In short, 2018 saw China and the US move towards a repeat of the Soviet experience: The West goes its own way with aviation, and China creates inferior clones, arriving a generation late. The ARJ21 is an inferior E-Jet/CRJ, two decades late. The C919 is an inferior A320neo, a decade late. The CR929 will be an inferior 787/A35XWB, a decade late. However, since the domestic China market is much larger than the old USSR market, they might be able to make autarky work for some time. At least for single aisles on domestic routes, that is, since twin aisles on international routes would compete with Airbus and Boeings, guaranteeing disaster for Chinese carriers stuck with a CR929."

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Originally Posted by V.Narayan View Post
We have come to believe that the commercial airliner market being a duopoly is the natural state of things. The present duoply is a function of the collapse of USSR in 1991 and Boeing buying out McDonnell Douglas in 1996. In 1990 we had 2 American, 1 European and 2 Russian OEMs of size. It is an unstable state where only the two biggies existed and picked the segments that suited them (120 seat +) and ignored those that did not (40 to 120 seats). It also resulted in the duopoly squeezing the ancillary suppliers dry (ask me) and this industry runs on the strength of independent specialized suppliers who do their own R&D. Embraer and now COMAC are simply addressing a gap crying out to be filled.
Fully agree - McDonnell Douglas was one of the aviation greats, sad that Boeing swallowed them up. Just look at some of their aircraft, the F-15, F-18 and C-17

However with A220 (erstwhile Bombardier C Series), Airbus now has an aircraft smaller than the A320 and it owns a 50% stake in ATR, the leading regional transport aircraft maker and Boeing is looking to acquire Embraer's commercial aircraft division for $4.2 billion.

Last edited by Redline6800 : 20th March 2019 at 09:49. Reason: grammar
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Old 20th March 2019, 09:46   #13
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

I've not followed China's attempts into aviation very keenly, but they are closing the gap with the US in terms of technology. They might not become a leader in technology in 50 years, but they'll close the gap in the next 20-25 years. I'll not be surprised if China can compete with the incumbents - Boeing and Airbus in 10 years. The duopoly needs to be broken.

That being said, US and EU airspace will try to put some sort of regulation to make it hard for China. But Comac will have the domentic market, SE Asian and possibly the Indian market to make a claim to be the third significant maker of commercial aircraft in the world.
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Old 20th March 2019, 10:22   #14
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

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But I guess the point is, will China grow to a level where they have the respect of the world community as an aviation power ? I would assume that China wants to be seen as an aerospace power, which is why it is investing the tens of billions of dollars to make this happen.
Thank you for making some great points. Your view is shared by many operators and many in the West. The Chinese are approaching aviation with a 75 year horizon and not a 5 or 10 or even 15 year one. This is one of the most, if not the most complex mechanical industries which need a vast eco-system of interconnected standards and suppliers and R&D. At air shows I saw what they used to make 25 years ago and I see what they are putting together today and would not under estimate them at all. I may not like their geo-politics and unscrupulous style but am compelled to admire their determination and methodical efforts.

Quote:
The current state-of-the-art in terms of commercial aviation is not the A320neo and 737 MAX but the A350, 787 and soon to be delivered 777X. In this area, one must consider China at least 20 years behind the west (an eternity in the aerospace industry).
Yes the Chinese are some years behind. Hard to say if it is 10 or 20. Touring the insides of the C919 seems to indicate they are working very hard to catch up. By the 2035 I would expect their single aisle jet liners to be equivalent to the offerings of Boeing and Airbus.
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Aviation technology is tightly controlled by the Western powers as this is one area where they have a lead that is almost unbeatable.
In 1927 when my father in law (who lives with me) was born the British Empire looked unbeatable. Never say never.
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Aboulafia puts it best.....
Quote:
... since twin aisles on international routes would compete with Airbus and Boeings, guaranteeing disaster for Chinese carriers stuck with a CR929."
These articles, in my humble view, are prejudiced outpours of journalists who either dislike China or are pushing the case for Boeing and Airbus. In the early 1970s when I first started reading aviation magazines, around the time the A300 first flew, American writers would pen similarly negative and venom filled articles on Airbus and on how pathetic its efforts were, on how the Germans and the French who were killing each other only 30 years earlier are pretending to build a aviation giant, how Airbus was merely Sud Aviation with a new door...etc
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Old 20th March 2019, 10:23   #15
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Default Re: Can China's Comac ever challenge the Airbus-Boeing duopoly?

Quick question for the management people here - whatever happened to the rule of three? Valid? Discredited?

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