Nov. 4, 2015, © Leeham Co. The first COMAC C919 was rolled out of the factory over the weekend, China’s mainline entry into the fiercely competitive arena now “owned” by the Airbus-Boeing duopoly.
COMAC C919. Click on image to enlarge. Photo via Google images.
Although the two giants each has said China is the next competitor they will have to face, the Big Two have nothing to worry about for a generation to come.
- When COMAC first announced plans for the C919, it was going to be the first mainline jet in the A320/737-800 category with a new engine, the CFM LEAP 1C. Neither Airbus nor Boeing had yet decided whether to re-engine their airplanes, and in fact Boeing was publicly dismissing the idea altogether.
- The proposed entry-into-service was announced for 2016, an ambitious (and unrealistic) schedule considering COMAC’s inexperience at designing and building airplanes, and the horror story of delays, design and production problems of the COMAC-AVIC ARJ21 regional jet.
- While the C919 would have had an economic advantage over the A320 and 737-800, the decision by Airbus and Boeing to re-engine their airplanes not only erased the advantage, the additional improvements gave the economics back to the A320neo and 737 MAX.
- The C919 will still have lower capital costs, but the Chinese have little experience at a global product support system for its military or commercial aircraft. Competing with Airbus and Boeing on this scale is, well, no competition at all.
- Delays for the C919 will probably mean EIS won’t happen until 2020 (COMAC currently targets 2018), but which time the A320neo will have been in service nearly five years and the 737-8 about three years. PIPs will already be forthcoming, further improving economics.
- Perhaps most significantly, by 2020, Airbus and Boeing will be producing their airplanes at the rate of 60 per month. Even if the C919 enters service by 2018, by 2020 production is unlikely to be more than 5/mo, or 60 per year. This is hardly a threat. If EIS slips to 2020, hitting 5/mo will at best probably be 2023, by which time Airbus and Boeing will be well on their way toward clean-sheet successor airplanes to the A320 and 737.
ARJ21. Click on image to enlarge. Photo via Google images.
The ARJ21, China’s first serious attempt at a commercial jetliner, was a learning process. From this, COMAC learned much to apply to the C919, but this is still a learning process. Plans for the next airplane, the twin-aisle C929, in a joint venture with Russia (which has long experience in building airplanes but powered by less-than-stellar engines) may be too much too soon. But each step along the way, including sub-types for the C919, will give the Chinese more experience.
Developing a commercial aerospace industry is a national goal of the Chinese. They’ve developed a space program and a blue water Navy. Anyone who thinks that the Chinese won’t develop a viable commercial aviation industry is sniffing kerosene. But it will take time.
The first Airbus airplane, the A300B2, entered service in 1974. The A320 followed in 1988. By 2000, 26 years after the A300, Airbus captured 50% of the market.
The culture is a patient one. The leaders waited 99 years to reclaim Hong Kong and Macau. Waiting 26 years—a generation—is a piece of cake.