Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Boeing and Airbus must 'beware the Chinese' for manufacturing surprise, analyst warns

 Comac C919 
(Photo: Comac)

China's fledgling commercial aircraft manufacturer may be underestimating how many jets it can make as it moves to compete with Boeing and Airbus Group, an aerospace analyst warned Tuesday.

"Beware the Chinese. Their ability to surprise us will be significant,” said Michel Merluzeau, vice president for aerospace strategy and business development with consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

Merluzeau delivered that brief word of caution while outlining his global aerospace industry forecast for the next decade at the British-American Business Council annual Aerospace Conference. Hundreds of commercial aircraft industry executives, suppliers, trade officials and technology executives gathered for conference at Seattle's Museum of Flight.

Merluzeau said sales and engineering teams at Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. (COMAC) are providing "very prudent" numbers on manufacturing planes to analysts like him.

"Right now, COMAC is saying they will make 50 to 60 aircraft a year," Merluzeau told the audience. "But knowing the Chinese, when they get it right, they could easily double that."

The Chinese airplane manufacturer is working feverishly to automate several parts of its commercial airplane production to make faster production easier, he said.

"The automation in the factory is like nothing I have ever seen," Merluzeau said.

COMAC currently makes a mid-market jet called the C919 with 156 to 186 seats and a range of 4,075 to 5,555 km (about 2,532 to 3,452 miles).

It also makes the ARJ21, a small regional jet with 78 to 90 seats depending on whether it has only economy seats or if it has a dual economy-business class seating configuration.

COMAC has also announced that it also wants to make wide-body, dual-aisle large jets called the C929 and C939.

"Large passenger aircraft is the embodiment of the nation’s industrial and technological standing as well as its comprehensive power," COMAC said on its English-language website.

Chicago-based Boeing has single-aisle 737 and wide-body jet (777-787-747) manufacturing facilities in Renton and Everett in the Puget Sound region. The U.S. jetmaker is working to automate parts of its production line, including automated wing riveting in Renton.

(Andrew McIntosh - Puget Sound Business Journal)

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