Airbus, Boeing and Comac see blue skies ahead for China’s aircraft market

Orange Wang

Airbus, Boeing and a potential Chinese rival remain positive about the prospects for China’s aircraft market over the next two decades despite a trade war with the United States and slowing economic growth.

European giant Airbus, which is expected to benefit from the China-US trade war and the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 planes, forecast that China would need 7,420 new aircraft in the next 20 years.

At Aviation Expo China in Beijing last week, George Xu Gang, chief executive of Airbus China, said the company delivered 93 planes to mainland Chinese buyers in the first seven months of this year, about 20 per cent of its global total for the period.

Xu said China was now Airbus’ biggest market in terms of fleet size with 1,779 of its planes in service.

Airbus now also accounts for about half of the Chinese market, up from just 9 per cent around two decades ago.

A total of 3,639 aircraft were operating in China by the end of 2018, according to official data.

The European company has eaten into the market share of American rival Boeing, which could be at further risk if China cuts orders for Boeing in its escalating trade war with the US.

When President Xi Jinping visited France earlier this year, China announced a massive US$35 billion order for 300 Airbus planes, widely seen as a blow to Boeing.

China’s aviation authority was also the first in the world to ground Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes after a crash in Ethiopia in March killed all 157 people on board.

There was no sign of Boeing at the three-day aviation expo in Beijing last week, the oldest event of its kind in the country.

A Boeing public relations official said the company did not attend last year and decided “a long time ago” not to take part this year.

But the American company shared Airbus’ growth outlook, saying China would need 8,090 new planes by 2038 and generate nearly US$3 trillion worth of orders for the industry over the next two decades.

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), a Shanghai-based aerospace manufacturer, said Greater China, including Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, would need 9,205 planes by 2038.

Comac will not only lead the development of China’s aviation industry, but also lead the global industry chain

Wu Guanghui

Comac, which is expected to deliver its first C919 – its answer to the Airbus A320neo – in 2021, said the Chinese market would be its main focus but it would also keep a close eye on the rest of Asia.

Li Yan, deputy director of Comac’s market research centre, said countries linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as countries in the Asia-Pacific, could be good target markets for the manufacturer, with the Asia-Pacific market, excluding China, requiring 9,100 planes in the next two decades.

Wu Guanghui, chief designer of the C919, was also confident about the company’s prospects.

“Comac will not only lead the development of China’s aviation industry, but also lead the global industry chain,” Wu said.

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