Are Boeing and Airbus letting their narrowbody rivals off the hook?

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I still don’t think so, although the theory is getting renewed currency. Our rivals over at Aviation Week are suggesting that China’s C919 is going to be well-timed to steal a lead over the West, and now it seems Bloomberg is talking up the idea of Bombardier and Embraer finally getting thier big break.



The Bloomberg story came after John Leahy’s remarks in London that there would not be a new Airbus narrowbody until 2024.(Incidentally he also once again merrily talked of the Boeing/Airbus”duopoly” and how Airbus’ intention was to maintain a roughly 50/50market split for the foreseeable future.)

Well Bloomberg has a point. The way the market has evolved has givenEmbraer and Bombardier a chance to move up a class and, if theysucceed, the temptation for them to move up another class will be allthe greater – although that is a long, long way off. I personallyfavour the view that Boeing and Airbus will simply not allow that tohappen and will do whatever is needed to stop it. That ‘whatever’ couldhowever include strategic partnerships with Brazil and Canada’s finest.

But I think Bradley Perrett at AvWeek is way off. First, rather likeRussia’s Superjet, the C919 will be only as good as the West, which largely controls the technology, lets itbe. I suspect in fact Boeing and Airbus would like to see the C919 inservice as soon as possible so that there is even less chance of itbenefitting from the genuinely revoutionary technologies that might make itonto the next generation of Western narrowbodies.

But in any case the likely timing is absolutely horrible for China.Even if it performs at the top end of expectations, it won’t sell inany meaningful numbers for years after entry into service while theworld watches to see how it shapes up. And just about the point when itwould absolutely have to make a breakthrough it will meet the oncomingtrain of that Western duopoly, possibly tugging Bombraer behind it.Where are you going to place your 25 year-bet then? C919 or the verybest that Boeing and Airbus can produce?

I was going to end this post with a suggestion as to what China couldbe doing in addition to the C919 to try to win round two, some 50 yearsfrom now. But after some thought I’m damned if I know. (Focus onmilitary? Widebody? Position as prime supplier to Boebus?)

Incidentally, you won’t hear this sort of argument coming from thelikes of Steve Hazy, John Leahy, and Jim McNerney – the one thing thosefolks are not going to do is show public lack of respect for thatparticular nation.

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4 Responses to Are Boeing and Airbus letting their narrowbody rivals off the hook?

  1. FF September 21, 2009 at 4:01 pm #

    I agree. To get a toehold in the market, Comac has to produce a plane to the same standards as Boeing and Airbus. But it has to do so at a much lower cost – to overcome the disadvantages of poorly established distribution and support networks, as well as lower residual values. I think China – smart people – can achieve the first part of the equation. But they’re going to struggle to keep costs low enough, unless the planes are massively subsidised.

    China can either adopt off the shelf western technology, with no cost advantage over Boeing or Airbus. Or they can attempt to develop their own at enormous expense. There’s a reason why the main OEM’s are outsourcing more and more. And I note that the Chinese are going against the trend in attempting to market the plane alone. Instead of spreading the burden and captive home market through collaboration with partner nations.

  2. RobH September 21, 2009 at 6:13 pm #

    Looking at this realistically, the only real markets for -919 are state-run indigenous airlines (as regionals) or very limited export countries with lax safety regs: North Korea, VietNam, Venezuela, Cuba, maybe Iran?). Taking that into account, these are really only the same markets that would consider the SuperJet. The secret to any success over the Russians then would be the spare parts supply chain, which really wouldn’t take much to improve upon. These production numbers could be pretty respectable, Mr. Daly. Remember the Chinese govt holds the purse strings for their airlines.

    And FF: Remember that the Chinese don’t develop, license or adopt; they replicate (it’s sooo much easier).

  3. FF September 21, 2009 at 10:23 pm #

    RobH, you’re right that the Chinese government has a lot of say over internal aircraft purchases. But they’ll ill serve already struggling Chinese airlines if they saddle them with the undoubtedly large depreciation costs of the C919.

    Picking up on Kieran’s original question, China already has an important and lucrative role as a supplier and this will surely develop further over the years ahead. They just need to stay away from vanity projects and not get involved in the marketing of aircraft for the timebeing – pretty much as the Japanese do.

  4. Saj September 27, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    I certainly share the sentiment you have on this subject – although the “prowess” at Bloomberg leaves a lot to be desired vis a vis the C919 coming in to take market share away from the A320/737 families.

    Equally – as Airbus and Boeing “shift up” a gear to a minimum of 150 seats, the gap is still too far for Embraer or Bombardier or anyone else to plug with any of their current designs – a stretch too far springs to mind, frankly.

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