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OPINION: Engine arrival signals China's supply chain progress

By rolling out the first locally designed high-bypass turbofan on 29 December, China joined one of the most exclusive clubs in the global aerospace industry.

Only four countries – Japan, Russia, the UK and the USA – have high-bypass turbofan engines in production. In four or five years, China’s CJ-1000A engine for the Comac C919 is expected to join them.

First impressions are not always reliable, but the ­CJ-1000AX demonstrator looks impressive. It has nearly the same fan diameter as CFM International’s state-of-the-art Leap-1C engine for the C919, which implies a similar 11:1 bypass ratio. The Chinese powerplant also uses several advanced technologies, including hollow titanium fan blades and 3D-printed fuel nozzles.

Much still remains unknown about the CJ-1000A, including how China manages the metal-melting temperatures inside a modern gas turbine.

After delivering a large regional jet, rolling out a new single-aisle and partnering with Russia to develop a widebody, the unveiling of the first fully assembled high-bypass turbofan marks another major step in China’s slow emergence as a global aerospace competitor.

Its next challenge is betrayed in the long list of European and US suppliers signed on to each of those OEM-level projects. To truly become a global peer of the West in aviation, China must develop a globally competitive cadre of tier one systems suppliers.

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