In ten years, China’s aircraft market is going to be so large – it’s actually rather hard to visualize. Boeing, alone, imagines there is at least another trillion dollars of sales there. No current OEM can scale to that level of production, let alone produce airliners for everyone else that wants them.
This leaves western analysts either with a case of concern, a case of orientalist confusion, or good old fashioned russophobia.
Are there other challenges out there? Some wonder whether Embraer would ever leave their favored market niche and step up to play with the duopoly. Embraer isn’t ever going to do that. When it comes to emerging/resurging aeronautical markets – there are only two manufacturers with capital and a competitive landscape not overtaken by the big western two with the engineering know-how or desire to enter the space: Russia and China.
On Monday (May 22, 2017), the Russian and Chinese Governments announced the formation of CRAIC. China-Russia Aircraft Commercial Aircraft Company Ltd. Their goal is simple: build a 6500nm-ranged 280 in three-class seating widebody to both meet their own needs and break up the Boeing/Airbus duopoly the World has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Can they do it? Russia can.
While I am still miffed that a certain leader kept someone waiting for their train from Beijing, I deeply question the strictures of Maoism. I also think UAC (Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation) has the ability to do this on their own, just with a much higher degree of risk.
China has one, maybe two, things Russia can’t provide on their own that would dramatically speed up development and lower risk of such a project. Firstly, China has money and a desire to move production of extremely valuable goods home. Secondly, China’s population is so much greater than Russia’s; the market for a Sino-Russian airliner could be sustained without skepticism from the Russian market. After all, almost all the major Chinese airlines have the C919 on order – regardless of how it may eventually perform. Top that off with the fact the larger population and economy allows for a larger budget and, well; there’s a lot of economic benefits.
Russian engineers at CRAIC will gain skills building a next-generation small wide-body. UAC will, presumably, get some amount of revenue out of this.
China does stand to gain more, though.
UAC, through the fantastic MC-21, has shown that you can scale out-of-autoclave composite curing technology up from a general aviation aircraft (Diamond’s specifically). I really, really want this next generation airliner to succeed. It just has so many amazing aeronautical things going for it! It’s worth its own article, but I’ll get to it later.
China, however, wants to learn more about advanced aircraft fabrication than what Airbus in Tianjin can offer. They also want to scale up the competencies and manufacturing ability of COMAC. Which also happens to be building the C919 narrow-body in Shanghai.
Indeed, it seems like the Chinese government would like to make Shanghai a civil aviation knowledge cluster, much like the Seattle area.
What better way than to build an out-of-autoclave wide-body in partnership with Russia? That’s bleeding edge fabrication. You know that when your friends at other aviation outlets are wondering about consistency and certification internationally, you are pushing the boundary.
Airbus is only now alluding to the existence of out-of-autoclave manufacture for their competition to the inevitable Boeing Middle of Market aircraft. So, what can we expect in ten years – when this new widebody will show up?
Well, we know much of what UAC and COMAC have done – this aircraft will also use “western” suppliers. We also know that they claim it will be 10-15% cheaper to run on its designed segments than a Boeing or Airbus aircraft of equivalent size.
That’s really it. There are rumors it may be called the C929, or the C9X9 – but I am really not seeing a joint aircraft retaining COMAC’s C branding. Then again, the Yak-242 magically became the airliner of the twenty-first century.
No matter the case, this is not an aircraft to take lightly – even if it’s a decade out. Coincidentally, ten years from now is the time when China will need to replace tons of widebodies in that market segment.
I’ll be watching this closely.