The Chinese government and airlines have very few orders for the re-engined Airbus A320neo family and Boeing 737 MAX. There are no identified Boeing 737 MAX orders in China and just 19 A320neos.
There are 197 Unidentified MAX orders, some of them rather large. China in the past has placed large Unidentified orders with Boeing that remained so categorized for years, but there is no way to tell if this is the case right now.
Nor has China placed any orders for the Bombardier CSeries despite growing commercial ventures between Bombardier and the C919 developer, COMAC.
But China has nearly 400 orders and commitments for the home-grown C919 and another large number for the home-grown, and immensely troubled, ARJ21 regional jet. The validity of the C919 orders is questioned by some observers, and even some of those who “ordered” the C919 tell us the orders are window-dressing for China.
Still, the question remains: why hasn’t China placed orders for the MAX and CSeries or larger orders for the NEO?
For the MAX, it has been suggested to us that given China’s historical adherence to ordering within a Five Year Plan, the MAX entry into service of 2017 was initially beyond the five years of the 2011 launch date. Now, with a backlog of some 1,500 MAXes, the line is essentially sold out to 2019 or so–though Boeing is well known to hold some delivery slots back for key customers, as well as to double-book and hope to then manage its “skyline” accordingly.
(Boeing’s considering a plan to increase 737 production rate to 47 a month by 2017 and 52 a month by 2019 which will clearly help skyline management issues and offer new slots to customers.)
Airbus has an A320 assembly line in China’s Tianjin, erected with the strategy that this would enable Airbus to increase its market share within China. This seems to have worked: the A320 is selling well and has a healthy backlog in China. But only 19 A320neos have been sold and none for the A319neo or A321neo.
The Five Year Plan could have a bearing on this, if this theory is correct. The A320neo has an EIS of October 2015, with the other two models following by six months and one year. With the initial runaway success of the neo, early delivery slots disappeared quickly. Still, one might expect the Tianjin plant would assure delivery slots to China for the neo. So to some degree the absence of neo orders is puzzling.
Unless it all comes down to the government supporting the C919 to the exclusion of the 737 MAX and the neo. This seems plausible.
Why hasn’t Bombardier received orders for CSeries, given its commercial ventures with COMAC and the announced plans to share a cockpit with the C919? An order from the China Development Bank was expected at one of the international air shows a few years ago, but we are told the CDB board of directors held off at the last minute due to internal issues. CDB has since ordered the C919 and ARJ21, but nothing from any Western OEM.
Still, the absence of orders from a commercial partner is disappointing but hardly unprecedented. Consider the MD-80/90 assembly line in Shanghai that was supposed to lead to large market penetration for McDonnell Douglas. In the end only a handful of MD-80s/90s were sold in China. Or consider the ERJ assembly line that was established for the same goal, only to prove a disappointment to Embraer.
The Chinese are fickle