China and Russia on Wednesday announced a multibillion dollar plan to jointly build wide-bodied passenger planes that will compete with Airbus and Boeing within a decade, a move experts said the nations are well-placed to achieve.
The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) unveiled a one-tenth scale model of a wide-body civilian aircraft at the ongoing Airshow China in Zhuhai, South China’s Guangdong Province, with experts saying that the two countries have strong complementarities in technology and market to bring the vision into reality.
This cooperation is based on a contract signed in June witnessed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin during Putin’s visit to Beijing.
According to a COMAC press release, the long-haul plane, with 280 seats, will have a range of 12,000 kilometers. The advanced aerodynamic design will use composite materials and a new generation high-bypass turbofan engine to obtain maximum performance.
“Based on our experience of the research and production process, from the start it will take seven years to get to the first test flight, and 10 years to formally deliver to our client,” COMAC noted.
While the new aircraft has not yet been named, and it has not been decided which engine will be used, UAC President Yury Slyusar said he has strong confidence in the joint project with China, having previously told Russian media that the new plane will compete with the Boeing 787 and Air Bus 350.
Lower operating costs will mean competitive pricing for the aircraft, with Slyusar saying it will have around a 10 percent advantage on the cost compared with its competitors.
Slyusar told the Global Times on Wednesday that the total value of this program is approximately US$13-20 billion, and China and Russia will split the bill.
“COMAC has outstanding technology and designs and we will not only cooperate in technology but also in intellectual property,” he said.
The joint venture will not be an exclusive Sino-Russian project, and will be open to world suppliers, the press release said. It will outsource to experienced suppliers of technologies and quality systems globally to share the risks, it said, and encourages suppliers to manufacture locally.
Maurice Boon, Officer for Science and Technology at the Netherlands Embassy in China, was in the audience at the unveiling ceremony. He told the Global Times that “maybe Dutch companies can join the program and provide component supply services.”
Qi Qi, an associate professor with Guangzhou Civil Aviation College, said it will be a colossal challenge for the joint venture to be accepted by the world market. The new plane will have to be tested for safety standards, operational and maintenance costs, before entering the international market.
“Only those accepted by the international market will be deemed as successful models, so the joint venture must closely observe trends in the global aviation market,” Qi said.
“It takes time to accumulate experience to achieve certain levels of craftsmanship,” he said.
Airbus Group said at the air show that its A330 factory in Tianjin will deliver the first Tianjin-made A330 aircraft in September next year.
A representative from Boeing told the Global Times Wednesday that the market is big enough for new competitors, and that healthy competition is conducive to the industry, which will prompt all manufacturers to produce innovative products to meet market demands.
Lin Zhijie, an expert in passenger planes, noted that China boasts advantages as aircraft manufacturing is a national strategic industry with huge investment from the government, and Russia has a sound basis for the design and manufacturing of wide-bodied planes and engines.
COMAC has already had success with its previous star product, the C919 passenger plane.
Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines became the first buyer to take delivery of the China-made single-aisle 168-seat passenger jet on Tuesday at the air show, although the first test flights might not be until early 2017, COMAC said Tuesday, adding that China Eastern may then put in an order for five more planes.
COMAC also signed an agreement with Shanghai-based aircraft leasing company SPDB Financial Leasing Tuesday, and received five confirmed orders and 15 international orders.
So far, COMAC has received over 570 orders of C919 from 23 customers.