Comac soon next to Airbus and Boeing third power in the sky?


Two consecutive crashes have severely damaged Boeing’s image in China. The Chinese state-owned aircraft manufacturer Comac wants to profit from this and is ready to attack.

The plane crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia with a total loss of 346 people are also a big topic in China. On state television and on the Internet, animations are shown in which the nose of the 737 Max plane seems to swing uncontrollably up and down in the air until a crash occurs. But it’s not just the Boeing disaster that is being reported. It’s also about how China’s own aircraft manufacturer Comac is positioned. The state concern has the order to blow up the, Duopol´ Boeing and Airbus in the sky.

“The US aviation giant Boeing is facing one of its toughest tests,”writes the party newspaper Global Times about the recent crashes and concludes: “It would be a step forward for the global aviation industry if Comac could offer safer aircraft and more comfort. Comac has yet to prove that it can do this. However, the Chinese are in the process of closing the gap as quickly as possible with tough industrial policies. The most important weapon in the race to catch up with Boeing and Airbus is the Comac C919, the first Chinese medium-range aircraft to have real turbine engines and the size of an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737.

Comac C919/photo:

The market launch is currently being prepared with test flights and the establishment of production. In two years, everyday operation should be possible. Around 800 orders, most of which come from Chinese airlines, have already been officially placed.

The aircraft is part of the Chinese industrial plan “Made in China 2025” for the development of advanced industries and technologies. Beijing’s strategy is to close the technology gap to Western companies in many sectors and to produce world market leaders itself. Initially, production facilities will be modernized, later the country is to rise to become an “industrial superpower”.

For most international flights, however, the C919 still lacks certification. But the manufacturer doesn’t need this for now. The huge domestic market alone can pave the way for Comac to become a new aviation giant.

Comac’s rise politically wanted

It is estimated that China will need more than 7000 new aircraft in the next 20 years. Boeing and Airbus, which have been dividing up the Chinese market alone so far, will soon have to give up a large slice of this cake. It is true that Airbus recently secured another large order from the Chinese during a state visit to Paris by China’s head of state Xi Jinping. Specifically, the order involves 290 medium-range jets from the A320 family and ten long-range jets from the A350 series. But: “There will be fewer orders of this size in the future,” predicts Zhao Jian, Professor at Beijing Transport University. After all, Comac’s rise is politically desired. Government airlines will therefore be instructed to stock up on Comac aircraft.

Observers assume that this could have disadvantages for the Chinese airlines. Although the C919 is likely to be cheap thanks to state aid, higher kerosene consumption will quickly eliminate this cost advantage for airlines. They also anticipate a more protracted race to catch up. “Of course, our goal is to become a third big player in the market,” says Chinese aviation expert Yang Shao. However, the C919 is only “the first step”. China currently has more to gain from working with Western competitors than from fighting them.

Passing on knowledge to China

Beijing had committed Airbus and Boeing years ago to operate final assembly factories in China to deliver their aircraft. Western manufacturers can thus sell even more aircraft, but they also pass on a great deal of knowledge to the Chinese, who learn quickly. The next step is already being planned: Comac wants to start building the C929 together with Russia as soon as possible. The wide-bodied aircraft is to offer space for 300 passengers and be able to fly 9,000 kilometers – another significant step forward.

Whether Boeing’s situation in China will become more difficult in the future will probably also depend on the further course of the trade dispute with the USA.

Sources: Wirtschaftswoche,, global times

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