Friday, May 5, 2017

C919 Is Flying But Where?




The Chinese COMAC, C919, has flown the coop on its first flight. The Seattle Times offers a quick overview of this accomplishment and what it does for the market.  Dominic Gates writes with his assembly of observations in very clear picture.

Key Quote:

"Yet Richard Aboulafia, industry analyst with the Teal Group, believes that the central planning element and lack of any competition in the Chinese aerospace manufacturing economy inevitably will doom the C919 to mediocrity and unprofitably."


This opinion comes from Winging It's, take it or leave it common sense. There are 3 parts mentioned in this this opinion.


  • Can COMAC compete?
  • Will the C919 change the current duopoly
  • Are customers wanting the C919

The compete question is tied up will Chinese ability of constructing an aircraft of this stature meeting and exceeding Boeing's 100 years of learning, error, and success and Airbus 46 years with Billions of government Euros making it so. COMAC has "borrowed" on Boeing's and Airbus' experience but there is no replacement for ones own experience. Common sense says China has another twenty years before it will get significant notice on its aviation accomplishments.

The current Boeing/Airbus duopoly is the holy aviation cow where many have approached but never have made it as a third wheel in the market place. Embraer, Bombardier, and everybody else who flies crop dusters have a niche place for which Boeing and Airbus will not allow into its mega club. COMAC is a government "allowed" consortium which has a parasitical business model of if we can't do it we will just take from others. I wonder who was the engineer in COMAC who stumbled upon using a side joy stick just like the Airbus version. Then the Chinese engine makers came up with a remarkable CFM engine from Safran and GE for its C919. The Chinese could use the CFM initials so they chose the GE-Safran consortium CFM engine.  By the way CFM was much debated into the Chinese Fast-Moving moniker once the oversight committee agreed. It was a smart move to buy technology you don't have than wait 40 years to develop it.

The COMAC by the Seattle Times chart above, speciously demonstrates a spot between the Boeing and Airbus single aisle dimensions and capacity. The Chinese engineers came up with a best fit by finding a midpoint between the two and made the COMAC a few inches here and there different and a few passenger here and there different. A room full of 1,500 engineers worked out the details of what the C919 would look like. Another forty years gained by borrowing from the mega builders parts bin.

The final point of market acceptance comes to the forefront. Do customers want the C919 on its own merits? 

Second tier regional Chinese Airline customers will do it in quantity per party bulletin issued. The more affluent Chinese airlines will buy-in with token orders out of nationalistic "pride". The affluent airlines are world players and bend towards market competition and are buying first rate air frames from Boeing and Airbus in numbers. 

COMAC does not have a world support foot print for its parts, maintainers and manufacturer's technical support. Customers can't buy and stay competitive without those key field components in play everywhere.

Thus, the C919 is relegated to the Chinese zip code and other peripheral customers. It will take another 40 years to spread a world footprint for its business case for its current and future customers.

As the Seattle Times article points out when quoting  

Richard Aboulafia.

"Yet Richard Aboulafia, industry analyst with the Teal Group, believes that the central planning element and lack of any competition in the Chinese aerospace manufacturing economy inevitably will doom the C919 to mediocrity and unprofitably.

Writing in his monthly newsletter last year, Aboulafia pointed out that:

 “government-managed, funded, and supported jetliners, historically, are not stellar performers.”

“Every single civil aircraft produced by an authoritarian country (or by a socialist economic system) has been a miserable failure on the market,” he wrote.