The advent of Chinese aircraftMedium and large aircraft manufacturing is a classic example of global oligopoly. The Boeing Co. of the United States and Europe’s Airbus divide the market. During the Cold War era, America’s McDonnell Douglas and Russia’s Topolev were competing intensely. It was the British company Comet that opened the age of modern passenger jets in the 1950s.
But these companies disappeared. They were merged with other companies or barely remain in the market as they failed to meet the demand for faster and more efficient passenger aircraft. The aeronautic industry is notorious for pressure to keep prices competitive as the market grows. Many major airlines went bankrupt as they couldn’t match prices.
Aircraft manufacturing is also a global collaborative process. Airbus headquarters and assembly plants are located in Toulouse, France. But the frontal body, cabins, wings and engines are manufactured in Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. For Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, the frontal body, wings and wingtips are provided by the United States, Japan, and Korea respectively. The engines are made by the U.K.’s Rolls Royce and U.S.’ General Electric and the doors are made by a French company. Boeing directly makes rear body and vertical tail wings. Nevertheless, 787 is a Boeing product, as the company has the core design technology to assemble various parts into an aircraft.
Because of the overwhelming dominance of the B2 companies, other countries hadn’t dared to enter the medium and large aircraft market. Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer have long specialized in small aircraft. Japan is considered a leader in aeronautics technology, but it succeeded in a test-flight of a 70- to 90-seat Mitsubishi MRJ only in 2015.
But China is challenging the established order. State-run company Comac developed the C919 on its own, and it made a maiden flight on May 5. It can carry about 170 passengers, similar to Airbus’ A320 or Boeing 737. You are mistaken if you think C919 is another Chinese knockoff. China developed the indigenous passenger jet, Y-10, with the support of Jiang Qing, wife of Mao Zedong.
While China could not fund the development and gave up in 1986, it did not give up the dream completely. The 80-seat Comac ARJ21 was developed in 2002 with McDonnell Douglas’ technologies, and more than 140 operate domestically in China. Comac is partnering with Topolev to develop 747-grade passenger jets. In 1994, Korea and China agreed on a joint development of 100-seat passenger aircraft at the summit, but regrettably, the Korean aeronautics manufacturing industry gave up the project due to the foreign currency crisis.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 27
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.