China’s Burgeoning Aviation Industry

The C919 roll out marked a milestone for Comac (Photo: Zhang Anchao/Comac)

China’s aviation industry has had a slow start and hadn’t taken off until the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping opened up the country to significant economic reform. Since then, however, the industry has grown tremendously and is set to eclipse the United States’ aviation industry within the next decade and a half.

Comac C919

The Chinese first attempted to build a passenger jet in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but that attempted largely failed with the aircraft crashing.

Since then the country has worked tirelessly to grow the industry and develop its own aircraft. In 2017, the Chinese company Comac successfully brought its C919, a Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 competitor, into mass production after a successful test flight.

While the aircraft is still nearly a decade behind in technology compared to newer aircraft, it has served a proof of concept for the company. It has joined the elite few that have mastered the technical expertise required to build large jets. The company boasts over 700 orders for the jet, mainly by Chinese airlines who are often state-controlled and are highly encouraged to use the aircraft

The aircraft, however, isn’t completely Chinese made. The wings and tail are made in China but the majority of components are purchased from foreign suppliers such as GE, which provided the engines.

Xi Jinping’s Plan for China

However, given Xi Jinping’s, the current President of the People’s Republic of China, ambitious initiative for the country laid out at the most recent Communist Party Congress, that is likely to change.

With the new initiatives and his newfound power as “president for life”, Mr. Xi has carefully laid out a plan to develop China into a global superpower. From the Belt and Road plan to the Made in China plan, the country has a target boost the economy and overall status of the country.

Like the C919, most of this will happen with the help of foreign technology firms who will be required to transfer over core technologies in exchange for market opportunities. It has been made very clear that the country plans to become a technological power by reducing dependence on foreign supplies and U.S. technology companies.

Future of Aviation

Analysts estimate that the Chinese will purchase nearly $1 trillion in airplanes over the next 20 years.  Boeing has built a B737 finishing factory and Airbus has a final A320 final assembly plant in China, with Airbus planning on building a wide-body jet plant in the country as well.

There is no doubt that Boeing and Airbus will make off handsomely in the Chinese aviation expansion, but in the long run, it is likely that we will see a globally competitive Chinese aircraft manufacturer that will pose a serious challenge to the currently established manufacturers.

Hemal Gosai

Hemal Gosai

Hemal took his first flight at four years old and has been an avgeek since then. When he isn't working as an analyst he's frequently found outside watching planes fly overhead or flying in them. His favorite plane is the 747-8i which Lufthansa thankfully flies to EWR allowing for some great spotting. He firmly believes that the best way to fly between JFK and BOS is via DFW and is always willing to go for that extra elite qualifying mile.
Hemal Gosai