Chinese civil aviation industry going stronger than you think

Ashraf Qureshi. 

In under 4 years, China will be the world’s largestcivil aviation market. At least that is what International TransportAssociation thinks. There are figures to backthis claim. And they are being issued by not one but multiple internationalentities.

Considered the Oscars of the aviation industry,Skytrax World Airline Awards this month placed China’s Hainan Airlines in the global top 10 – second year in a row.Hainan also bagged the Britain-based consultancy’s title of a Five Star Airlinefor eighth consecutive time. As 24.45 million travelers polled by Skytrax can’tbe wrong, China’s aviation industry is aiming for nothing short of the sky.

A major boom in China’s aviation industry has beencaused by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a mega project aimed at revivingancient trading routes. International players are cooperating with localmanufacturers on several fronts to benefit from new opportunities offered byBRI. Lithuania’s Avia is one such group that is initiating partnerships with Chinesefirmsto provide aviation-related facilities. Besides focusing on training, the groupintends to carry out maintenance and repair operations along the BRI route. Itssister company AviaAM Leasing concurrently has engaged with Henan CivilAviation Development to lease 14 airliners.

Chinese manufactured aircraft are in demand as well among the BRIparticipating countries. 57 aircraft of the type MA60/600 turboprop have beenexported to 18 BRI countries and 103 of the Y-12 series planes have beendelivered to 28. The aircraft exported by China are not only being utilized forcivil aviation but they have also found their usage in fields like training andemergency rescue.

Other locally manufactured aircraft undergoing finaltesting include a large passenger jet, an amphibious aircraft, and alightweight sports airplane. Comac C919, China’s first homegrown trunkjetliner, is planned to hit the market by 2021. Already bagging 815 ordersfrom across the globe, the aircraft is a result of Comac’s cooperation with localgovernments and institutions for provision of industrial bases and conductingflight tests.

AG600 is expected to attempt its first watertakeoff in a couple of months. It is the world’s largest amphibious aircraft andis developed by Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). AG600 will bethe third member of China’s “large aircraft family” after the Y-20 freighterand C919.

Another locally manufactured aircraft raising the baris the lightweight ‘wind feather’ sportsmachine. This is the first Chinese airplane built entirely with domesticintellectual property. A product of Shanghai Aokesai, the aircraft hassuccessfully received type certification from civil aviation administration andis ready for export. Orders from 11 countries, amounting to an encouraging 200million yuan have already been placed.

Chinese aviation industry is also expanding globally.AVIC is establishing a new company in London to produce cabin interiorsfor international aviation giants including Airbus and Boeing. At the sametime, a range of other aviation-related agreements with the UK demonstrate thegrowing level of collaboration. Chinese ambassador to the UK recently talkedabout upgrading the UK-Chinaair corridor which is expected to reach 150 direct flights every week through anagreement reached under 9th China-UK Economic and Financial Dialogue.

The propitious future of Chinese aviation industry canbe gauged from the fact that a newly revised negativelistallowing foreign access to local manufacturing industry includes majorconcessions for the aviation sector. Foreign ownership limitations on severaltypes of aircraft have been removed and have thus triggered the interest ofnumerous international companies.

Airbus, which has delivered over 370 aircraft sinceits Tianjin based Forward Assembly Line (FAL) went operational in 2008, nowplans to increase the facility’sproduction capacity of four A320s per month to six per month. The FAL is a jointventure of Airbus, AVIC, and Tianjin Free Trade Zone.

The industry is generating a major wave of innovation.National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology of China has teamed up withAirbus to jointly establish aresearch facility for application of nanotechnology in the field of aviation.Airbus is also establishing a globalinnovation center in China. The company plans to use it for acceleratingR&D and utilize the innovative environment of Shenzhen to cultivate anintegrated hardware and software ecosystem.

In less than 2 years, more than 500 generalaviation airports will be dotting China’s map. During the same period, thefleet of general aviation aircraft will expand to over 5,000. Boeing meanwhile forecasts that China will be inducting6,300 new aircraft by the year 2037. This is an unprecedented expansion –something the aviation industry of the entire globe needs to align with. It isa calling for local and international investors to come forward and be a partof the success.