Aviation: The Chinese challenge Airbus and Boeing

The Chinese have an airliner for the first time at the Paris Air Show and launched the new Battle from heaven against Airbus and Boeing.

The 49th Paris Air Show, largest event in aviation and space in the world with over 2,100 exhibitors and 340,000 visitors, is home for the first time a newcomer in the market for civil transport aircraft. The manufacturer Comac (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) indeed presents a model of its future medium-haul which should compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing B737 by 2016.

Located in Hall 5, a little away from the bustle of the main hall and the tarmac where the planes take off for flight demonstrations, the stand of the Chinese manufacturer is rather plain compared to its competitors. A summary table of the expected performance of the device, a video presentation and a bit of documentation in English or Chinese … Nothing compared to the great display offered by Airbus and Boeing. In the center of this area of 500 m2 surrounded by stands of Ukrainian, Swiss or French OEM models, the scale model of the cockpit and forward fuselage of the future Comac C919 still looks impressive. Its classic design will allow the C919 to transport up to 168 passengers and will put it in direct competition with the only two aircraft in that category currently on the market, namely the Airbus A320 and Boeing B737, and with the future CSeries of Canada’s Bombardier. The market for medium-haul is a bright future with the development of air transport in developing countries, at least two other manufacturers – Embraer and the Russian Sukhoi – could also claim shares in the near future.

The question is whether this new aircraft has a chance to compete against the giants Airbus and Boeing, which currently prevail unchallenged in the market for medium and long-haul. “We knew for some time that new players were coming on this strategic sector booming,” says Airbus. Its assembly line in China has just delivered its 52nd A320. “Our strategy is to differentiate ourselves through innovation, allowing us to maintain a strategic gap over our competitors. “Hence the launch of the Airbus A320 Neo that will consume 15% less fuel compared to the first version of this best-seller and will be marketed in 2016. “We focus on our experience, the maturity of our products and eco-efficiency.”

To enhance its credibility internationally and make life difficult for these two aircraft manufacturers, Comac decided to work with different Western equipment suppliers, such as CFM (General Electric and Snecma) for the engine, Michelin tires or saffron for wiring.

For now, a hundred Comac C919s were ordered, mostly by Chinese airlines. The jet has attracted one foreign client, the leasing arm of General Electric of the U.S.. Discussions seem to still engaged with other Western carriers and new contracts could be formalized as soon as the certifications of the device complete.