Government commissions research but Airbus doubts whether there is room in the market for a third manufacturer
China has taken a first step towards large-aircraft manufacturing with the launch of a study into the feasibility of developing a 150-seat airliner. However, one of its potential rivals - Airbus - is questioning whether there would be enough room in the market.
China's state council has asked the country's two major aircraft manufacturing conglomerates - Aviation Industry Corporation I and II (AVIC I and II) - to examine whether it is feasible to develop larger commercial aircraft, which would have at least 150 seats. The move has been confirmed by Shanghai-based AVIC I Commercial Aircraft Company (ACAC) vice-president Tao Zhi Hui. He says that the year 2020 has been suggested as a possible deadline for producing the first aircraft in this category, but points out that the authorities have yet to decide whether the country will embark on building larger aircraft.
Airbus China president Laurence Barron is pessimistic that any new player would be able to compete in the 150-seat market against the might of Airbus and Boeing. "One has to wonder whether there would be room for three manufacturers, given that over the years the others have pulled out one by one or been absorbed," says Barron.
"Our own history is an example of how much time and money it takes to get to world status," says Barron. "Is there room for a third manufacturer to do the same? Historically the answer has been no."
But China appears undaunted by the challenge. AVIC I is developing the 85- to 105-seat ARJ21 regional jet family, the first of which should be certificated in October 2007. "If we can make the ARJ21 a success then we would like to also take on larger aircraft in future," says AVIC I's Tao.
Despite linking with China for the abortive AE31X 80- to 100- seater project in the 1990s, Airbus has effectively ruled out another tie-up in the latest studies. "I don't think we have the resources to get involved in what I would see as a competitive programme," says Barron. He adds, however: "It's something we will be watching to see how it evolves."
NICHOLAS IONIDES / TOULOUSE & LEITHEN FRANCIS / SINGAPORE
Source: Flight International