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Boeing, Airbus and Comac eye China’s need for 7,690 jets

Despite huge aircraft demand projected over the next 20 years, the rise of China's locally produced narrow-body C919 may slow sales of the 737 and A320

September 12, 2018 6:22 PM (UTC+8)
The C919 series is China's indigenous airliner project. Photo: Xinhua

China’s civil-aviation market will be worth US$2.7 trillion in 20 years’ time and the country will need a whopping 7,690 new passenger planes as more of the nation’s citizens take to the skies.

Despite such heady forecasts coming out of Beijing, Chinese papers say the boom won’t mean the usual windfalls for Boeing, which traditionally made fat markups on fleets of its best-selling 737s and 787s sold to Chinese airlines.

New planes required by Chinese carriers over the coming two decades will be worth a grand total of $1.2 trillion. This makes China the world’s only aviation market capable of soaring beyond the $1 trillion mark. China will also need $1.5 trillion worth of services for its expanding fleet.

According to Boeing, in recent times, about 30% of all deliveries went to Chinese customers, and the company is quickly approaching the delivery of its 2,000th commercial jetliner to China. About 52% of all commercial jetliners currently operating in China are made by Boeing.

But domestic aircraft maker Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’s C919 narrow-body jets, soon to be awarded airworthiness certification, will likely wrest a chunk of the market from Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus A320.

Even more worrying for Boeing, its arch-rival Airbus and Comac are set to bag even more orders should the trade row with the US continue to disrupt Boeing’s business in China, said the People’s Daily. In the single-aisle jet segment, which accounts for the largest share of commercial airliner fleet inventories, alternatives to Boeings are easy to find.

A separate report by the Aviation Industry Corp of China put the number of new jets needed in China over the next two decades at 6,100.

The report, released last year, estimated that by 2036, the nation’s combined fleet of passenger jets would hit the 7,000 mark, from the 2017 level of 2,818. In 2016 alone, Chinese airlines bought a total of 300 commercial aircraft.

Though single-aisle, narrow-body jets will continue to make up the bulk of the national fleet over the next 20 years, China may buy more wide-body airliners than any other country. These will serve Chinese carriers opening up long-haul intercontinental routes to the Americas, Europe and even Africa.

Currently, Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines is the nation’s biggest carrier by fleet size, yet just 93 of its 572 planes are categorized as wide-body jets, according to aviation-data cruncher PlaneSpotters.

A Comac CR929 on display at an aviation exhibition. Photo: Sohu

But whether Comac and its Russian partner United Aircraft Corp can cash in on the demand for bigger jets depends on whether the pair can expedite the initial design work for the CR929, which is set to be the world’s only new wide-body, two-aisle passenger jet to be manufactured outside of Boeing and Airbus.

The plane, whose first design stage is completed, will have a maximum seating capacity of 280 and a range of 12,000 kilometers. This makes it capable of flying more than twice the distance between Beijing and Moscow, and able to fly from Beijing to New York City non-stop.

Both sides of the partnership hope the CR929 can perform its maiden commercial flight some time between 2025 and 2027, Global Times reports.

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