September 30, 2016, ©. Leeham Co: In our Corners on East bloc aeronautical industries, we will now look at the Chinese civil aircraft industry.
The Chinese aero industry has similarities with the Russian industry in its overall structure. From the start of the industry in the 1950s, it was structured after the Soviet model of research institutes, design bureaus and production companies.
The difference to the Soviet Union was that its own Chinese aircraft designs only started in the 1970s. Before that, the industry built Soviet designs on license and then modified versions of licensed designs.
The first own aircraft designs were presented in the 1980s with a focus on military designs for the first 20 years.
Industry origin and history
The Chinese aeronautical industry was established after the Communist rule was established in 1949. The engagement in the Korean War required that the aircraft industry was centrally controlled under the Aviation Industry Administration Commission from 1 April 1951.
This central administration of the industry has been kept but has been through many changes. It is instructive to let the major changes be headlines for the development of the industry
Apr 1951 – Aug 1952 Aviation Industry Bureau, Ministry of Heavy Industry
Aug 1952 – Feb 1958 4th Bureau, No.2 Mechanical Industry Department
Feb 1958 -Sept 1960 4th Bureau, No.1 Mechanical Industry Department
Sept 1960 – Sept 1963 4th Bureau, No.3 Mechanical Industry Department
Sept 1963 – Apr 1982 No.3 Mechanical Industry Department
The naming is typical; the aeronautical industry was part of the mechanical manufacturing industry in the country. The companies produced different industrial and consumer goods (vehicles, military equipment for the all dominant army, different other mechanical goods, aircraft under license).
Typical aircraft produced during this period was the Soviet MiG-15UTI trainer designated JJ-2, the first license built aircraft (which required a lot of assistance from Russia). After the JJ-2 came the J5, which was a license-built Mig-17, and the H-6, a license-built Tu-16 bomber which was still produced in the 1990s, Figure 1.
Apr 1982 – Apr 1988 Ministry of Aviation Industry
Apr 1988 – Jun 1993 Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Industry
Jun 1993 – Jun 1999 China Aviation Industry Corporation, AVIC
China started a transformation of its military government departments into public corporations after the death of Mao Tse-tung (1976). One such corporation was the Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) that spun off in 1993 from the Aerospace Ministry.
AVIC was a holding company for hundreds of public industrial corporations. These corporations were manufacturing all sorts of goods from automobiles to aircraft, machinery, household appliances, and its aircraft production was modest when compared with western aeronautical companies. (Sixty percent of AVIC’s revenue were automobiles, auto-parts and motorcycles in the early years).
In the 1990s,China increased its investment in military technology, particularly in aerospace. China now designed and built several military aircraft of more and more its own design. It also increased the commercial aircraft activity by further developing and producing Soviet models like the Y-7 (An-24) and Y-8 (An-12), Figure 2.
In the 1990s, China tried to get agreements with McDonnell Douglas and Airbus to co-produce large civilian aircraft in China, but this failed. (McDonnell Douglas assembled the MD-80 and MD-90 in Shanghai at a low-rate production, but the program wasn’t particularly successful.)
After these failures, China engaged in subcontracting work to the western aircraft industry. By 1995, AVIC had subcontract work worth $1.5 billion.
Jul 1999 – May 2008 China Aviation Industry Corporation I, China Aviation Industry Corporation II
In 1999, AVIC was split into AVIC I and AVIC II government holding corporations. At the time, AVIC and its manufacturing subsidiaries had 560,000 employees producing aircraft, aircraft machinery, aircraft parts, weapons, missile, aircraft engines and other industrial goods. The two aircraft holdings now started their corporate streamlining.
AVIC I focused on larger aircraft, such as fighters, fighter-bombers, bombers, transports, reconnaissance aircraft, turbojet engines, turbo-fan engines, air-to-air missiles and ground-to-air missiles, as well as machinery and other types of weapons.
It was controlling some 50 large and medium sized firms, including four Tier 1 companies: Shanghai Aviation Industrial Group (SAIC), Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group (CAC), Shenyang Aircraft Corporation (SAC) and Xian Aircraft Industrial Group (XAC).
The commercial aircraft units improved the quality and efficiency of their products through producing for or cooperating with Boeing and more recently Airbus. In 2006, AVIC I had aerospace sales of US$5.6 billion and 23,000 employees.
AVIC I launched the M-60, a stretched version of the An-24-based Y-7 in 2000. The Harbin Y-11, its own design piston twin, Figure 3 and Y 12 (Twin Otter copy) were also produced.
By the end of 2000, AVIC I started work a new regional jet, ARJ21. The design was similar to the Douglas DC-9-10. Now, 16 years later, the aircraft is in limited service with Chengdu Airlines.
AVIC II focused on smaller aircraft and helicopters. In 1999, AVIC II owned 54 large and medium-sized industrial enterprises and three scientific research institutes involved in helicopter, smaller airplanes/engines and airborne equipment. AVIC II had 210,000 employees.
In 2008, AVIC I and II were reintegrated into AVIC at the same time as the larger commercial aircraft projects were gathered in a new holding, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, COMAC.
The charter for COMAC is to develop and market aircraft to lessen China’s dependence on western manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus. Its first project was to market the AVIC I developed ARJ21. It was followed by the development of COMAC’s first own aircraft, the C919, Figure 3.
The C919 is the aircraft project where China should catch up most of the advantage that the western competitors have, both technically and production wise.
COMAC is now discussing the next project with Russian United Aircraft Corporation, the development and production of a 250-280 seater wide-body.