Nov. 30, 2020, © Leeham News: The Trump Administration this month indicated it might expand its ban on doing business with certain Chinese companies.
The Administration says the additional companies have ties to the military. Included in the listing is COMAC.
If the Administration follows through during its remaining lame-duck time in power, and if the new Biden Administration doesn’t reverse or modify the plan, the long-term effect could hurt the US aerospace supply chain.
Dr. David Pritchard, Associate Professor SUNY Empire State College, specializes in Chinese and Russian aerospace.
“How can the US administration put US supplier restrictions on Comac C919 commercial aircraft (and possibly the CR 929) when the same technologies are used on the Boeing 737 (e.g., avionics and engines)?” he asks. “If the Chinese want to reverse engineer key technologies, then they can strip them off a Boeing 737 to gain the knowledge.”
Pritchard notes that “while many US/China JVs are in place for the ARJ21/C919 commercial aircraft programs, is it more technological support for assembling and servicing the commercial aircraft compared to full transfer technology to the Chinese? Is the technology on the ARJ 21 second generation and not the latest?”
The ARJ21, of course, is “old” technology. AVIC launched the program in 2002. The first flight was in 2008. Entry into service was in 2016. It’s based on the McDonnell Douglas MD-80.
Suppliers have long tried to protect technology transfer by sharing previous generation technology while developing new versions. This, of course, doesn’t protect companies from IP theft for which the Chinese are infamous.
“Let’s look at this from a 50,000 ft. view,” Pritchard says. “The Chinese are readying a launch for China’s Chang’e-5 mission to the moon for collecting lunar rocks. I am sure they are past the technology point of relying on the west for commercial aircraft technology. This is going to drive Chinese innovation (Made in China 2025), with unlimited money from China national policy.”
Pritchard notes that China already collaborates with the Russians to design and build indigenous technology platforms (e.g., engines and avionics). China is reducing relying on “unreliable” trading partners (the US) for commercial aircraft programs that can last 30 years.
“As an example, it was reported that Russia’s MAI transfers composite wing design technology to China for the COMAC CR929,” he notes.
“We are at an inflection point with the West and China for the commercial aircraft industry. The Chinese can’t any longer claim to be an infant industry. The rest of the world needs to hold China accountable to World Trade Organization regulations. The WTO dispute process is outdated, requiring countries to file a dispute settlement claim against the Chinese to stop government funding tens of billions of dollars to support their commercial aircraft industry development. But they won’t because of possible trade repercussions,” Pritchard says.
“The new US administration and the European Union need to negotiate an updated large commercial aircraft agreement to determine how commercial aircraft programs are launched and funded to ensure the continued technology growth for this important industry.”