COMAC’s bid to develop a 150-200 passenger jet is in trouble.
According to this report, CFM doesn’t plan to proceed with an assembly line within China for the LEAP-1C that will power the C919. Concerns over intellectual property and the business case for the airplane are cited.
According to this article, GKN of Europe, which was to build the horizontal tail assembly, isn’t going to.
The airplane was supposed to enter service in 2016 and we already figured a delay of at least two years. Given the regional ARJ21 is already around seven years late, and still not certified, we think the two years is probably going to move to the right substantially.
If we’re generous and look at a 2020 EIS, this means the C919–an Airbus A320 look-alike–would enter service five years after the A320neo and three years after the Boeing 737 MAX. The airplane is also going to trail in sophistication.
Boeing officials as recently as this year still believe China will develop viable, commercially competitive airliners within the next 25-50 years. The ARJ21 program has been a disaster and it we anticipated that the C919 would be better than the ARJ21 (a low bar, to be sure), not truly competitive with the A320 and 737 but COMAC’s “makee-learn” airliner. It’s looking like this will be a disastrous program, too.
Maybe it’s time to privatize COMAC. As long as it belongs to the government the best engineers will keep moving to the military division and COMAC will continue to struggle. China should look towards the UK and see if can learn some lessons from its troubled history of state intervention in commercial aviation.
A harsh assessment that was long overdue.
They will never catch up. The only reason Airbus caught up was Boeing as asleep at the wheel. With A & B dogging each other, it is not going to happen again.
Even privatized, they would have to spend the 70 yeas that goes into the step ups that Boeing did (using the 1930s as the springboard years) and the efforts Europe did in the various Pax jets they built that were not all that successful but kept them current and a basis for system design.
There are no single point breakthroughs. Even a new material like composites is mastered over 20 years and you slowly learn to master it in how it works in an Aircraft (as both A&B have found out that has unexpected twists)
At the same time you have to integrate it in with all the other materials as each component has a trade off.
Then its into the various systems. At best if the industry is stagnant you will just barely match what is out there and then the next thing comes along and you are behind.
The Chinese have not even made a successful Turbo Prop and they don’t know how to build the support structure. They are after ego not the steps needed and build the base and then strike if and when the time is right (if ever).
Boeing was not only asleep at the wheel, it was also overconfident and contemptuous towards the Europeans. Maybe Boeing forgot that guys like Theodore von Kármán (JPL), Gerhard Neumann (GE) and Wernher von Braun (NASA) all came from Europe. Boeing also forgot that the basic principles they were the first to commercialize (swept wing, winged engine pylons, etc.) had first been established in Europe. The jet engines themselves came from Europe. This was around WW2 and the brains were all fleeing to go to the US for the benefit of the country’s fast developing aerospace industry. Another migration wave occurred in 1970 when the UK aerospace industry collapsed. Not to mention the termination in 1959 of the Arrow programme in Canada which benefited the then nascent NASA and the rest of the industry with the sudden availability of 14,000 engineers and technicians right across the border. A formidable pool of talented people allowed to thrive in an extraordinarily favourable business environment is how was created the most powerful aerospace industry in the world.
When government are involved, especially ownership, there seems to be a good dose of ego influence behind commercial projects (yet, the Titanic, Olympic & Britannic and others were privately built but we’ll stick to aeronautics).
We can recall the Soviets built many of the largest this or that (mostly military, like the An-124, An-225, Mil-26, V-12 etc, but also the civil Il-86 “aerobus”) in an attempt to show the world their great industrial might and relevance. Granted, some are use justified, but it’s tough to see a return on these great expenditures.
Was the Hindenburg or the Anglo/French Concorde in that same league? The Airbus A380 or A400M?
Surely, China has shown their great ego gene building great government and commercial buildings many of which are still empty. Surely, it applies to aeronautics as well, but it may be tempered by the fact that these things crash causing greater fanfare than deserved. But, in time, by hook or by crook they’ll get there.
ps. the first all-Boeing designed aircraft, was by a Chinese guy named, Wong. He designed the Boeing Model 2. It was Boeing’s first financially successful aircraft. I’m not sure he’d appreciate the term “makee-learn;” back then maybe it applied to the Boeing engineers.
It’s a bit of a blurry line here – the aforementioned aircraft were effectively build/commissioned by the government, but that’s because such was the economic system in the USSR at the time. They had a pretty complicated system of state-owned companies (like Aeroflot) submitting annual requests for supplies, which then were used to forecast next year’s levels of industrial output and resources required… (For a brief introduction into how this worked, I recommend “Red Plenty” by Francis Spufford – a semi-fictional book set in the 1950s and 60s and focusing on Soviet economics in particular, while actually telling the stories of individuals involved in the decisions at the time.)
So by nature, everything in the USSR was state-commissioned, but that doesn’t mean that everything was just governed by state ego. Don’t forget that de Havilland, Douglas and Boeing also participated in the race for the first commercial jetliner, and that Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed all had supersonic jets in development, and it did seem – until oil prices suddenly peaked – that supersonic travel was the future; so it wasn’t just Soviet and Anglo-French egos betting money on it.
Also don’t forget that the West also participated in the ego exercise that was (largely) the race into space…
You can add the R100 and R101 to that list to make it even more diverse…
Just to point out as well that the A380 doesn’t fit onto the list as it was not commissioned by any state/government.
“but that doesn’t mean that everything was just governed by state ego.”
There’s no implications everything Soviet was ego driven. But, the system surely greased the skids in that direction. Do you read much of, say, Soviet Belarus tractors in those semi-fictional, “stories of individuals?”
“that supersonic travel was the future; so it wasn’t just Soviet and Anglo-French egos betting money on it.”
Well, if some drop out for the cost forecast yet others continue the “ego” tag truly goes to the latter. And, even as though the Concorde was a fantastic result of a treaty between to nations, we know they were equally fantastic financial failures.
“You can add the R100 and R101 to that list to make it even more diverse… ”
Why bother with the R100/101 when the Hindenburg’s development was on behalf of the Nazi’s complete with their swastika’s on the tails?
“Just to point out as well that the A380 doesn’t fit”
The A380 would not have been built had it not passed EADS’ golden share owner’s approval and support… mainly France and Germany. We can wonder if it would be approved under the more public management like we see today at the Airbus Group.
IMHO your view of “creating big inventions to have a place for sticking a swastika on” is significantly off.
All those projects had a history reaching far back to pre and post WWI developement
in Germany. ( DELAG ( lighter than air passenger transport ) was founded in 1909
Lufthansa in 1926 was created in a merger of 2 older Airlines ( junkers and the joint air transport arm of NDL and HAL shipping companies.
After the takeover in 1933 the Nazis obviously started fitting a swastika to anything of potential greatness ( incl. the of infusion of money.)
Well, the US had the advantage (as it turned out) of being late to the party. By the time the US congress cut funding for the Boeing 2707 (which was a government-sponsored programme just like Concorde) in March 1971, Boeing hadn’t even completed a single prototype, while Concorde and the Tu-144 were already two years into their flight test regime.
I was referring to the R100 and R101, as they were also government-sponsored failures. Swastikas or not.
As for the Hindenburg, by the way, the project was started in 1930, and construction began in 1931, two years before the swastika-bearers took over power in Germany.
True, but I’ve never seen any report that there was any pressure from any government to get the A380 started.
And as such, I don’t think projects approved by government shareholders (or their intermediaries – as only 20% in EADS at the time were actually held directly by a government) are more or less likely to fail than others. Private companies can be every bit as badly run as (part-)government-owned ones.
Don’t forget that the same governments that had shares (mostly via Legardère and Daimler) in EADS were behind getting Airbus started to begin with (a decision much more ego-driven than the launch of the A380, I’m sure), and also greenlighted the rather successfull A320 and A330/A340 projects, at a time when EADS didn’t even exist and there were no public shareholders of the company at all.
“Boeing hadn’t even completed a single prototype, while Concorde and the Tu-144 were already two years into their flight test regime.”
Yes, Aerospatiale and BAC had been working on their respective designs in the 50’s so we’d expect them to fly sooner. Yet, even as the first Aerospatiale Concorde flew funding and development continued despite cost escalations, the oil crisis and competition from new subsonic aircraft. Where were the pragmatic minds in the respective governments on either side of the Channel? Both sides of the US Congress saw the handwriting on the wall and cut the US SST, and the Concordski crashed leaving only one white elephant to fly collectively at a loss for 30+ years.
“Hindenburg, … was started in 1930, and construction began in 1931, two years before the [Nazis].”
The Nazis supported the project for three years before first flight in 39.
“I’ve never seen any report that there was any pressure from any government to get the A380 started”
And equally, these governments didn’t use their veto power to stop the A380 development and implicitly accepted explosive travel growth forecast at the larger constrained slot hub airports . Did they at least ponder curiously a decade or so later when asked to assist funding the opposite strategy based on the customer demanded XWB ? Perhaps, they are simply covering their bases, literally. Perhaps, it’s government flying monument building at its best.
OK, Everybody, we are getting far afield when we start talking about stuff from 80 years ago.
So you’re saying the L-2000/2707 were just government-funded “me too” programmes to boost the US’s ego, at a time when the Soviets and the Europeans were already flying their respective SSTs?
To answer that rhetoric question: Yes and now. Yes because it so happened that the US was late to the SST party, and it did enter it in large part for prestige, no because Boeing themselves had also been studying SSTs since the early 1950s.
Except that the 2707 was cancelled in 1971 (amid cost overruns and delays), which was two years before the oil crisis, at a time when the 2707 still had more orders than Concorde. The vote in the house of Representatives was narrow (215 to 204) and met vehement criticism from the Republican-led administration. The project cancellation led to mass-layoffs at Boeing.
However, when the oil crisis hit two years later, Concorde lost one order after the other, costs spiralled, etc., the US could consider themselves lucky that they didn’t win the race to building the first commercial SST.
Again, the power of hindsight certainly helps here. Consider, though, that at the same time as France and the UK pursued Concorde, the US cut funding for the 2707, but sent people to the moon, a vastly more costly exercise.
According to BA, by the way, Concorde was wasn’t making a loss for them – when it started making a loss, they put it out of service. Without doubt, Concorde was a loss-making exercise for the manufacturers, though. Then again, it gave them a lot of technological know-how they could later on use in the Airbus project (just like the US gained know-how from the Saturn and Apollo programmes and even the cancelled SST). So everything isn’t quite that black and white.
You probably mean ’36, not ’39. But I’m still not sure what your point is here. In the context of government-sponsored big projects that failed, the R100/R101 are just as relevant as LZ129 (Hindenburg) and LZ130 (Graf Zeppelin II). Particularly as R101 was already in the air and subequently destroyed, claiming the lives of 48 people, when construction on LZ129 had not even begun.
…and neither did the owners of the 34.5% of EADS shares that were publicly traded at the time the A380 was launched in December 2000. Again, I’m not sure what your point is, other than implying something that you have no proof for, namely that government shareholder approval of the A380 is the same as Airbus only building the A380 at the behest of the governments in an exercise of “government flying monument building”.
The same silly governments, as I already pointed out, that when there were 0% publicly traded shares in Airbus, and there was no EADS, first greenlighted the A320 and then the A330/A340 – both of which of course make it a lot more difficult to talk about ego-boosting exercises in flying monument building.
Now, many decisions relating to the development of the A400M and its engines in particular are of course a different matter, but that tends to be the case with high-profile military contracts on both sides of the pond.
a) I think that “never” is a bit of an overstatement, as that’s an awfully long timespan :-). I do think that, projecting into eternity, there is a good chance that China is going to catch up. Don’t see that happening in the next 20 years, though. 40 years seems realistic.
b) Airbus was also able to catch up because it was originally a consortium that consisted of Messerschmidt-Bölkow-Blohm, Dornier, Fokker-VFW, and Aérospatiale, with CASA and British Aerospace joining a few years later. Between them, these (and their predecessors) had more than just a few years’ experience in designing, buiding and selling airplanes. A major key to being able to compete with Boeing and McDonnell Douglas was to combine their resources into a single pool. The current state of the Chinese aviation industry and its history isn’t quite comparable to that.
Not really a surprise. ARJ-21 is years behind schedule and that’s much smaller aircraft. I understand China’s desire to produce civil airplanes but the bar there is set really high. And just pouring money on the project does not seems to be a solution, you need engineers with experience. You might argue that Europe before A300 was in the same situation as China is today but that’s not really the case. At the time A300 and Airbus was born Europe already had several massive civil aircraft projects executed like Comet, Caravelle or Concorde. There is nothing comparable in China’s past and it shows.
Ouch, that’s really got to hurt but I guess this is what you get for trying to copy someone else’s design.
China is going against the trend towards risk-sharing. There’s any number of partners they could team up with: the Russians, Japanese or Bombardier
Interestingly, Chinese automobile brands are in trouble too. No-one wants to buy them. As people get richer they get fussier and are demanding Western brands.
I’m not surprised that intellectual property is an issue here. With the Chinese it seems as if US patents don’t exist, at least defense related patents.
Patents and copyrights don’t exist in Chinese thinking and it isn’t limited to military/defence items. The commercial manufacturers in all countries are out billions of $ in knockoff products being sold around the world.
“Patents and copyrights don’t exist in Chinese thinking…”
I had heard this from others before, but my direct experience is only with defense related items, where there is lots of unlicensed utilization of reverse engineered equipment and research papers presented at conferences that are literally stolen from work previously published by US or other non-Chinese researchers.
It’s worth looking at the automotive sector and how the foreign manufacturers are mitigating this risk in their joint ventures.
This is lament without moral justification.
Foreign copyright was ignored in the US as late as 1960.
Results from the US snooping on everybody seem to find
their way into patent applications from US companies.
The chinese at least are rather open about their position
on IP rights.
“Foreign copyright was ignored in the US as late as 1960.
Results from the US snooping on everybody seem to find
their way into patent applications from US companies.”
Do you have any examples of this, or are you perpetuating urban myth? As for the Chinese, ask anyone you know who attended the IEEE international EML technology symposium over the last 10 years.
I grew up with Chinese and know first hand that they are VERY industrious and
inventive. So don’t underestimate them, because they are also very patient and
determined! The Mao “Red Book” revolution is only two decades behind them
and I predict that China will become THE major industrial power of the world
within the next decade, or soon thereafter! A much lower salary base for one!
You need to look at the labor rate of inflation. They aren’t “low cost” anymore. If the current rate holds through the next decade as it has for the last, they will be at the same level as the South East USA in the early 2020s. Even if they manage to moderate it by half that jus pushes the date to the mid 2020s. This is why many companies are leaving China for cheaper alternatives like Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. China has systemic problems to tackle, and the new government may well decide that aerospace isn’t so important in the next 5 year plan. Keep in mind the last government made a commercial program a priority, the new President Xi may not see things in the same light.
Although I agree China is a major industrial power and increasingly so, there are many intrinsic obstacles including the aging population, pollution, water shortage, food contamination that must temper their growth. They’ve grown so fast in such a short time remediation will take much longer.
Its comforting to qualify the “enemy” as inferior or copied. It’s what we were learned for 40 years on the USSR.
Often new Chinese products are copied and that confirms what we like to believe.
Sometimes it aint what we like to believe and we adjust our forecasts e.g the ”probably a mock-up” J-20 and its smaller brother soon after or the stealth UAV’s and stealth bomber that we don’t expect for at least another 8 years.
The disorganized/fragmented structure of European aerospace along national lines just prior the formation of Airbus belies the experience, sophistication of the continent up to that point. If you look at Airbus in isolation, you kind of get a false impression that it is an enterprise that lives off the hand-outs of governments of four large European countries. Of course, the European aerospace heritage before Airbus is particularly rich — matched/exceeded only by the United States.
The US aerospace industry is organized. I think NASA’s sowing up and coming technology seeds is very interesting. For the engineers, a lot of technical know-how passed around during those R&D trials. Ditto for the DoD with its R&D arm DARPA.
However you look at the USSR, that chapter of history had a fully fledged aerospace sector capable of putting together very sophisticated programs for specific needs/missions. It doesn’t matter that some of the programs very commercial failures by Western standards.
I think China is interesting in that it has been a sleeping giant – a civilization that has awoken to a new and very different world. You almost get the impression that it is using warp drive to align itself with today’s standards, best practices and expectations, after missing out on 150~200 years of history – or more, if you include the revolution in scientific thought brought by the European Renaissance. And, of course, they make it look effortless. They could use a NASA and/or DARPA – they are a very large country – and they could certainly use a learning curve, indigenously grown. Perhaps the C919 is their learning curve. I wonder what the change of focus on growth driven by fixed capital investment and exports to growth driven by domestic consumption will mean for private enterprise/ideas in China.