China, Rus­sia take step closer to new long-haul jet

Jet tar­gets mar­ket dom­i­nated by Air­bus, Boe­ing

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

China and Rus­sia took a step closer yes­ter­day to the joint de­vel­op­ment of a long­haul jet to chal­lenge Boe­ing and Air­bus, dis­play­ing a model of the un­named plane that would com­pete with West­ern ri­vals. Sta­te­owned plane­mak­ers Com­mer­cial Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion of China (COMAC) and United Air­craft Corp (UAC) of Rus­sia said they had started the hunt to find sup­pli­ers, as they pre­sented a mock-up of the wide-body jet at Air­show China. Nei­ther firm gave de­tails on fi­nanc­ing or tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions for what West­ern an­a­lysts call a po­lit­i­cally-driven ini­tia­tive that will be dif­fi­cult to pull off and is likely to carry a high price tag.

China opened the show on Tues­day in the south­ern city of Zhuhai with a brief fly­past of its J-20 stealth fighter, in a demon­stra­tion of mil­i­tary clout.

Both coun­tries are cur­rently de­vel­op­ing smaller nar­row-body jets to com­pete with the best-sell­ing Air­bus and Boe­ing types. Guo Bozhi, gen­eral man­ager of COMAC’s wide­body depart­ment, said a 50-50 joint ven­ture based in Shang­hai will start op­er­a­tions this year. First an­nounced in 2014, the project has so far been slow to ma­te­ri­al­ize. The firms have said they want con­duct a maiden flight in 2022 and be­gin de­liv­er­ies in 2025 or later.

West­ern in­dus­try an­a­lysts con­sider the tar­get chal­leng­ing, but more re­al­is­tic than re­cent air­craft pro­grams that sought re­sults in 5-7 years and came in late. “A wide-body jet is an ex­tremely com­pli­cated prod­uct, which will re­quire a lot of skills (to de­velop) and re­quire broad in­dus­trial knowl­edge,” Guo told re­porters. “China and Rus­sia each have their own ad­van­tages.” De­scrip­tions ac­com­pa­ny­ing the model showed the firms ul­ti­mately en­vi­sion three vari­ants, based on a ba­sic ver­sion that will seat 280 and have a range of up to 12,000 kilo­me­ters.

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The de­ci­sion to base the ven­ture in Shang­hai was a “mu­tual de­ci­sion”, Guo said at the event, at­tended by COMAC Chair­man Jin Zhuan­g­long, UAC’s Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Yury Slyusar and Rus­sia’s Min­is­ter of Trade and In­dus­try De­nis Man­turov. Guo de­clined to say how much each party had in­vested in the project. A global ef­fort to as­sess po­ten­tial sup­pli­ers is now un­der way, said COMAC, which is sep­a­rately push­ing its own C919 nar­row-body pas­sen­ger jet to­wards a long-de­layed maiden flight, now aimed for the end of 2016 or early 2017.

US firms Honey­well and United Tech­nolo­gies Cor­po­ra­tion said yes­ter­day they dis­cussed the China-Rus­sia jet with COMAC of­fi­cials at the air­show, with­out com­ment­ing on the na­ture or sub­ject of the con­tacts. “We will choose sup­pli­ers who have rich ex­pe­ri­ence in de­vel­op­ment, whose prod­ucts are com­pet­i­tive glob­ally, and who can con­tin­u­ally guar­an­tee qual­ity from the de­vel­op­ment stage un­til the planes go into op­er­a­tion,” Guo said.

A key de­ci­sion will be what en­gines to use. In­dus­try sources spec­u­late the jet could use West­ern en­gines. An­other po­ten­tially tricky is­sue will be how the work should be di­vided, a sub­ject which caused years of wran­gling at Europe’s Air­bus, which be­gan in 1970 as a con­sor­tium of na­tions and took more than two decades to make a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.

Though a 50-50 JV, an­a­lysts view the Chi­nese side as be­ing the more in­flu­en­tial in the project. The firm’s Shang­hai head­quar­ters tells “where the bal­ance of power is go­ing to be and that re­flects the size of the Chi­nese do­mes­tic mar­ket,” said Sash Tusa, an­a­lyst at Lon­don-based con­sul­tancy Agency Part­ners. — Reuters

ZHUHAI: Photo shows an Air­bus A350 taxi­ing at the Zhuhai Air Show in Zhuhai, south­ern China’s Guang­dong prov­ince. — AFP

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