Chinese civil aviation industry going stronger than you think

In under 4 years, China will be the world’s largest civil aviation market. At least that is what International Transport Association thinks. There are figures to back this claim. And they are being issued by not one but multiple international entities.

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 Airline for eighth consecutive time. As 24.45 million travelers polled by Skytrax can’t be wrong, China’s aviation industry is aiming for nothing short of the sky.

A major boom in China’s aviation industry has been caused by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a mega project aimed at reviving ancient trading routes. International players are cooperating with local manufacturers on several fronts to benefit from new opportunities offered by BRI. Lithuania’s Avia is one such group that is initiating partnerships with Chinese firms to provide aviation-related facilities. Besides focusing on training, the group intends to carry out maintenance and repair operations along the BRI route. Its sister company AviaAM Leasing concurrently has engaged with Henan Civil Aviation Development to lease 14 airliners.

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

Other locally manufactured aircraft undergoing final testing include a large passenger jet, an amphibious aircraft, and a lightweight sports airplane. Comac C919, China’s first homegrown trunk jetliner, is planned to hit the market by 2021. Already bagging 815 orders from across the globe, the aircraft is a result of Comac’s cooperation with local governments and institutions for provision of industrial bases and conducting flight tests.

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

Another locally manufactured aircraft raising the bar is the lightweight ‘wind feather’ sports machine. This is the first Chinese airplane built entirely with domestic intellectual property. A product of Shanghai Aokesai, the aircraft has successfully received type certification from civil aviation administration and is ready for export. Orders from 11 countries, amounting to an encouraging 200 million yuan have already been placed.

Chinese aviation industry is also expanding globally. AVIC is establishing a new company in London to produce cabin interiors for international aviation giants including Airbus and Boeing. At the same time, a range of other aviation-related agreements with the UK demonstrate the growing level of collaboration. Chinese ambassador to the UK recently talked about upgrading the UK-China air corridor which is expected to reach 150 direct flights every week through an agreement reached under 9th China-UK Economic and Financial Dialogue.

The propitious future of Chinese aviation industry can be gauged from the fact that a newly revised negative list allowing foreign access to local manufacturing industry includes major concessions for the aviation sector. Foreign ownership limitations on several types of aircraft have been removed and have thus triggered the interest of numerous international companies.

Airbus, which has delivered over 370 aircraft since its Tianjin based Forward Assembly Line (FAL) went operational in 2008, now plans to increase the facility’s production capacity of four A320s per month to six per month. The FAL is a joint venture 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 with Airbus to jointly establish a research facility for application of nanotechnology in the field of aviation. Airbus is also establishing a global innovation center in China. The company plans to use it for accelerating R&D and utilize the innovative environment of Shenzhen to cultivate an integrated hardware and software ecosystem.

In less than 2 years, more than 500 general aviation airports will be dotting China’s map. During the same period, the fleet of general aviation aircraft will expand to over 5,000. Boeing meanwhile forecasts that China will be inducting 6,300 new aircraft by the year 2037. This is an unprecedented expansion – something the aviation industry of the entire globe needs to align with. It is a calling for local and international investors to come forward and be a part of the success.

Ashraf Qureshi is a contributing writer.

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