SHANGHAI-This week the world learned that China has decided to take on Boeing Co. (Chicago) and the Airbus consortium (Toulouse, France) by building a large, 200-seat commercial passenger jet by 2020. The reasons are obvious. Industry forecasts predict that China, with its fast-growing economy and infrastructure, will need to purchase some 2,200 commercial airplanes by 2025. The Chinese aren’t stupid. Why should they buy all those planes from somebody else?
Of course, there are those who will point to this development as the latest evidence that America is doomed to eventual economic mediocrity. However, the reality couldn’t be more different. On the contrary, a healthy Chinese aerospace sector isn’t just good for China. It’s good for the entire aviation industry. Just look at China’s other commercial jet in waiting, the ARJ21.
This airplane, a 70- to 80-seat regional jet-set to take its first flight in the coming months-is being developed by the state-run Chinese Aviation Corp., a consortium of six Chinese aerospace companies that have earned their wings building components for the likes of Airbus and Boeing. And while it may be “Chinese” in the technical sense, it is chock full of stuff that comes from the West.
According to the web siteAerospace-Technology, the plane’s cockpit will include five high-resolution liquid crystal adaptive flight displays from Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA); the fly-by-wire control system will come from Honeywell International Inc. (Morristown, NJ); and an integrated cockpit panel and lighting control assembly will come from Eaton Corp. (Cleveland). Oh, and the engines will be built by a certain company based in Fairfield, CT, that goes by the name General Electric. It’s these kinds of technologies that truly make today’s airplanes safe and cost effective. They also represent billions of dollars in sales, whether the customer is Boeing, Airbus or China.
Granted, the Chinese will inevitably want to try and figure out how to build these kinds of components themselves, the same way they are now building airframe components used in everything from the venerable 747 to Boeing’s in-development carbon-fiber 787. But, it’s safe to say the Chinese will have their hands full just trying to build their first wide-body aircraft, and companies like GE and Honeywell are in no immediate danger of losing their edge. We’re talking about pretty complex stuff here.
Then again, there will inevitably be problems resulting from the fact that the Chinese aviation sector is very much an extension of the Chinese government. You’d have to be pretty naïve to think the Chinese will fight fair when it comes to making their purchasing decisions. Nonetheless, they can’t be any worse than the Airbus consortium and its member countries Germany, Spain, England and, of course, France.
Already, there are some industry mouthpieces wondering whether the Chinese will actually be able to pull it off. But, that is counterproductive, to say the least. The Chinese are smart, hardworking people. They know full well every inch of their airplanes will be evaluated by the Federal Aviation Administration before they can even fly in U.S. airspace, let along join a U.S. air carrier’s fleet. In fact, the FAA recently opened a branch office in Shanghai for the express purpose of reviewing the ARJ21.
Ultimately, U.S. industry should be pulling for the Chinese in their aviation efforts. A strong global economy is good for everyone. That means the Chinese, like other foreign competitors, will have their successes. Competition is a good thing. The more planes the Chinese build, the more U.S. aviation technology they will need to purchase. Without Airbus to goad it into action, Boeing wouldn’t be experiencing the successes it is enjoying today. All the United States has to do is keep doing what it does best-work hard, pay attention to the marketplace and keep innovating.