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  • - [Woman] (speaking in foreign language)

  • - [Narrator] From airshow

  • to test flights in extreme cold weather

  • China state-owned aircraft manufacturer Comac

  • has been ramping up the development

  • of its C919 passenger jet to compete with Boeing and Airbus.

  • - C919 is an important part of China's

  • national development strategy

  • - [Narrator] Though the project is years behind schedule,

  • Beijing is moving ahead with big plans

  • at a time when the Coronavirus

  • has upended the aviation industry around the world.

  • Last December Comac began the process

  • of certifying the C919 for commercial operations.

  • - The large economies have not recovered

  • as quickly as China

  • and therefore China's likely share

  • of future commercial aviation growth

  • is gonna be somewhat higher.

  • - [Narrator] Eventually the government hopes the C919

  • will become the main carrier in the world's biggest

  • commercial aviation market, but can it succeed?

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping has had an aviation dream

  • since he took office in 2012,

  • to build the country's first commercial civilian airliner.

  • - (in foreign language)

  • - [Narrator] For the past two decades,

  • Airbus and Boeing have benefited

  • from China's fast-growing commercial aviation market.

  • Airbus built an assembly plant in China in 2008.

  • And before the pandemic, a quarter

  • of all Boeing planes that came off the assembly line

  • went to China,

  • and the demand isn't going away anytime soon.

  • According to Boeing's latest market outlook

  • from this past October, it expects China to buy

  • more than 8,400 new airplanes over the next 20 years

  • with the market valued at a total

  • of more than $1.7 trillion.

  • - Is that very good economic reason

  • for China to want to build its own aircraft.

  • And that is so that it can fill that market

  • and save a huge amount of it.

  • - [Narrator] Timothy Heath is a defense researcher

  • who's been studying China's national aviation strategy

  • for more than 15 years.

  • - [Timothy] The problem is that due to it's

  • lack of experience, there's a very steep learning curve.

  • - [Narrator] For instance, compared to Boeing's

  • more than 100 years of experience,

  • China started exploring commercial aviation in the 1970s.

  • So to catch up the Chinese government has been focused

  • on Comac, which was only established in 2008,

  • according to the US think tank

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies

  • since Comac's early days it has received

  • somewhere between $49 and $72 billion in government aid,

  • far more than the $22 billion that Airbus has received

  • from European governments,

  • according to the World Trade Organization.

  • Heath says while support from Beijing

  • has helped build successful homegrown companies

  • and industries, including 5G and artificial intelligence.

  • It'll take more than money to help the C919 take off.

  • - The difference is that civilian airliner manufacturers

  • is an order of magnitude more difficult

  • then a cell phone technology

  • and handheld consumer electronics.

  • - [Narrator] That's because building a commercial aircraft

  • requires hundreds of thousands of components.

  • - Their individual components,

  • which are ridiculously difficult to make

  • because you have to make them perfectly.

  • And they have to work

  • at 35,000 feet in the air for hour upon hour,

  • land, gas up, and do it again with no problems.

  • - Scott Kennedy is a senior advisor

  • at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

  • The non-profit policy research organization receives part

  • of its funding from some governments

  • and corporations including Boeing.

  • Kennedy has been analyzing China's industrial policy

  • for more than 25 years.

  • - Most of the parts that the Chinese make

  • are in the interior or for elements

  • of the body or the doors.

  • So the Chinese components are relevant to the plane

  • but they're not central to the plane's ability to fly.

  • - [Narrator] The more complex parts are imported.

  • - [Scott] China depends almost entirely on the US and Europe

  • for the components that go into the plane from the engine,

  • to the avionics, to the materials,

  • to most of what's inside the plane, even.

  • - [Narrator] According to Kennedy's analysis

  • only 14 key suppliers are from China

  • and half of them are joint ventures with foreign companies.

  • And these joint ventures are one important part

  • of Comac's plans to advance technologically.

  • - The Chinese have actually required a support suppliers

  • to transfer technology in many cases.

  • That means the Chinese are absorbing technology

  • and they're learning how to make some of the components.

  • - [Narrator] But for years,

  • Western manufacturers have acted to protect their IP

  • by only supplying old technology.

  • - It's already an obsolete plane

  • cause you've been using the oldest

  • most out of date technology

  • because the companies don't want to share and give away

  • their most cutting edge, valuable technologies.

  • - [Narrator] Still the Trump administration

  • kept an eye on joint ventures,

  • concerned that forced technology transfers

  • could allow China to break into the global jet engine market

  • and undermined US businesses.

  • - Then a world of heightened diplomatic tensions

  • that are growing more severe by the day.

  • One has to question whether those diplomatic tensions

  • could eventually bring a project like the C919 to a halt.

  • - [Narrator] For instance, in early January

  • the Trump administration added Comac to a list of companies

  • it says support China's military.

  • This blacklist could ban Americans

  • from supplying the plane manufacturer.

  • Comac didn't respond to a request for comment.

  • It's uncertain how political tensions will change

  • during the Biden administration.

  • But Kennedy says the success of Comac will take longer

  • than one presidential term.

  • - Despite all of the state support

  • and the history of China overcoming

  • previous technological hurdles.

  • I still think that we're no closer

  • then a decade away from Comac being a serious competitor

  • to Boeing or Airbus.

  • - [Narrator] Until then China will need to rely

  • on their jets.

  • But when the C919 is ready it potentially

  • has a guaranteed market at home

  • since Beijing could order it's state-owned airlines

  • to buy the plane in large numbers.

  • According to Kennedy's analysis, Comac already had more

  • than 1,000 orders by the end of 2020.

  • - These orders have been on the books for a long time

  • but those numbers on orders are really smoke

  • and mirrors until they really can prove

  • that they can deliver and service planes on a regular basis.

- [Woman] (speaking in foreign language)

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China’s Comac Aims to Rival Boeing and Airbus in the World’s Biggest Market | WSJ

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/30
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