China aviation could disrupt the Boeing-Airbus duopoly
At the least, the new Chinese aircraft and successors could force Boeing and Airbus to make some pricing concessions, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Last week, the Commercial Aviation Corp. of China Ltd. (Comac) announced that the C919, China’s first homemade large passenger jet, had chalked up its 730th pre-order. Those numbers won’t necessarily make the Boeing Co. or Airbus SE quake; Boeing estimates Chinese airlines alone will require 5,420 new single-aisle planes by 2036. Ultimately, though, they could herald the end of global aviation’s great duopoly.
Most of the C919’s orders come from state-owned Chinese companies, some of whom probably wouldn’t have placed them if given a choice. The C919 is technologically out-of-date and has been repeatedly delayed; it’s unlikely to enter commercial service before 2020.
The plane is cheap, though — reportedly 10 percent less expensive than the competition — and designed to be good enough not just for China but other emerging markets where air travel is booming and regulations are less strict than in the developed world. The hope is that cost-conscious carriers in Africa and Asia will embrace a plane that they can afford and that does most of what they need, even if its technology isn’t cutting-edge.
Launched in 2008, the plane is part of a long-term effort to build out a Chinese aviation industry capable of competing with Airbus and Boeing. More broadly, the hope is to upgrade China’s role from manufacturer and assembler of products such as off-brand smartphones and tractors, to world-class innovator.
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