C919 - “Made in China” Faces Challenges

May 26, 2017

 

Although the news of C919’s maiden flight has been published for a while, people still have a lot of discussion about it. As scheduled, the second C919 aircraft will launch its maiden flight in the second half 2017.  This flight is only the first step to commercial operations. From maiden flight to trial flight to airworthiness flying, there is still a long way to go. There will be a number of challenges ahead for business success.

 

After the C919’s launch, many people wondered if C919 is “made in China” or just “assembled in China”. Does C919 consist of just some advanced components from abroad to assemble, in which case it is really hard to say how much progress and technological achievements have been made.  In fact, there are three main criteria to judge if an aircraft is a home manufactured. Namely, they are whole property ownership, the core team in the design & development of the plane and the key link of the machine developed. The C919 is a mainline aircraft with full intellectual property rights in China. From the nose, fuselage, wings to the engine; on those key components, the Chinese team carried out the research, designed every component and provided the data to the supplier. The supplier personalised the engine according to the data provided. The C919 has achieved a breakthrough of over 100 key technologies, which is undoubtedly “Made in China”.

 

Secondly, most of the enterprises in China don’t have FAA or EASA certification in the field of power, electronic equipment and material, etc. Therefore, in the early stages of development, the way of choosing a global supplier enables China to catch up to the international advanced level in a short period of time. Meanwhile, some aviation experts also believe that by using foreign engine systems on C919 is an established practice. In addition, it is a way to reduce the risk of this project and it is a feasible way to shorten this project’s cycle.

 

From the foreign supplier’s perspective, why do they offer advanced technology to the C919 against Boeing and Airbus?  At present, Boeing and Airbus are dominant in the world’s production of civilian commercial aircraft. The C919 and C929 will compete directly against their products.  However, the position for Pratt & Whitney, CFM international, GE and Snecma was completely different.  Currently, there are a number of equipment providers. This makes it difficult to get an exclusive contract in the development of many aeroplane models.  In this typical buyer’s market, where fewer buyers are in charge, the suppliers are vulnerable on controlling prices; they have been in a very weak position for many years. So for these core equipment providers, they expect burgeoning big aircraft brands to enter the global market competition,

 

so they could have the chance to put their product prices higher and sell more. In fact, Canada and Brazil’s aviation industry cannot make a difference in aviation industry without the support of those equipment providers. However, their economies and their own markets are simply not enough to support the mass production of a new generation of main aircraft (especially the huge upfront subsidies). So far, Canadian and Brazilian products have been limited to light and regional jets.  In other words, China has the technology and economic power which will make it possible to break the monopoly. Therefore, the suppliers would like to cooperate with the Chinese team which is truly in their interest.

Of course, with the support of the foreign companies, C919 has broken the global monopoly of big aircraft design and development. However, it is too early to conclude that the “ABC” competition in the jet aircraft market has been formed.