The Future of Sino-Russian Commercial Aviation

"Typically for the USA, it assumed until recently that the Chinese civil aviation market was its own for the asking" for a total of $350 billion over 20 years

What Russia has learned from having sanctions leveled against it, and rolled over every six months like clockwork, is that it cannot depend on the west for any kind of commercial relationship. Europe continues to buy gas from Russia, and the USA stands on the sidelines and wrings its hands with anxiety but does not quite dare to forbid Europe’s purchase of Russian gas, because no other supplier has both the capacity and the infrastructure. But every other commercial commodity is carefully parsed for the degree to which Russia is dependent upon it, weighed against how much Europe would lose if it stopped selling it. Pretty much every time Europe has lost, as Uncle Sam squeezes it to cut off trade with Russia.

The lesson, then, is that (a) Europe is spineless as a squid, and incapable of resisting American pressure, and (b) the USA is determined to push Russia off the map altogether, and will never relent so long as it has the power to continue trying. These two elements convince Russia that no agreement with the west is worth committing to paper, and that whatever Russia wants, it must make for itself or trade with alternative markets to purchase.

It has long been a pet theory of mine that Russia – and its growing partner in adversity, China – are well-placed to strike a significant commercial blow against the west in a field the west has become accustomed to dominating: civil aviation. And it is my belief that the partners could do so by the simple expedient of designing, producing and buying their own commercial aircraft.

I’m not the only one who thinks so, of which I was reminded by Gunnar Ulson’s piece for New Eastern Outlook and which I read at Tony Cartalucci’s Land Destroyer, entitled “Russian-Chinese Civilian Aviation Challenges Western Duopoly”.

“China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), founded as recently as 2008 is developing a range of commercial airliners for use domestically and is attempting to promote its products abroad. While the latter is an intermediate to long-term prospect, domestically China already has the largest aviation market in the world with a growing demand for airliners projected well into the future.”

I’m sure most everyone is aware this will be a slow transition to develop – the future of western civil aviation is already tenuous, and is going to require heavy commitment of money for little short-term reward as the world struggles to get back to a place where we feel comfortable – I won’t say ‘safe’, as I am beginning to despise that word – traveling to other countries for vacation and taking to the skies in some of the most cramped public-transit conditions. Airlines cannot make money with only every third or fourth seat occupied while people remain terrified of COVID, and while they are not making money – are struggling for survival, in fact – no serious thought can be given to expansion.

Still, one day the west’s attention will turn once more to selling airliners, and when it does it will turn first to China, the biggest growth market in the world for airliners.

“Before the trade war, China was a big market for Boeing. In 2015 and 2016, China sales accounted for 13% and 11% of the company’s total revenue, respectively, according to its annual reports. In 2015, China was Boeing’s largest export market, and it was the third largest in 2016. But the company hasn’t sold any passenger planes to China in the past two years, Sherry Carbary, president of Boeing China, said late last year, according to the state-owned Shanghai Observer.”

At the end of 2019, China had more than 3,700 planes in its civil aviation fleet.

Looking forward, every domestically-produced civil heavy cargo or passenger aircraft China buys is one that is not bought from Boeing or Airbus.

The COMAC C-919, a narrow-body jet designed to compete in the class of the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A-320, already has 400 orders, mostly by the state. American company Honeywell hopes to provide critical flight-control system components in a deal worth $15 Billion, and probably out of caution to not offend the builder, claims it is ‘going to be a great aircraft, very competitive with the aircraft that are flying right now’.

How quickly the advantage shifts to the purchaser – China, in this case – and it is easy to see COMAC purchasing flight-control systems from the United States so long as it is convenient to do so, but energetically developing its own against the day America will withhold them due to sanctions. The United States is very good at building a lot of things, but it is its belief that it will always be the sole nation capable of producing them that is its Achilles heel. Typically for the USA, it assumed until recently that the Chinese civil aviation market was its own for the asking, and grumbled a little at how hard it was going to have to work to keep up with Chinese demands.

“China will likely become the largest market in the world for new large civil aircraft (LCA), with global LCA manufacturers expecting to sell 100 LCA per year in the Chinese market for the next twenty years, or one every three to four days, at a total value ranging up to $350 billion.”

You’re probably wondering where Russia comes into this. The original reference cited describes a partnership between China (COMAC) and Russia (UAC) to build a long-range wide-body twinjet, the CR-929.

“Together, COMAC and UAC through the China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation  (CRAIC), are developing a long-range wide-body twinjet airliner that would further enhance the competitiveness of both companies. Designated the CR929, the new aircraft is expected to make its first flight by 2025, before being introduced to the market in following years.

The ability for the CR929 to compete head-to-head with Boeing and Airbus at the moment seems unlikely. What is more likely is that it, along with other offerings from both COMAC and UAC, will prove themselves first in the Russian and Chinese civilian aviation markets, before future developments are more widely accepted by others internationally.

It is a long-term plan that takes into account not only the current geopolitical climate, but one that takes into consideration a future international order that has tilted considerably more toward the multipolar and away from the West’s current unipolar order, and an order that has produced and still jealously protects the Boeing-Airbus duopoly. ”

Two things should stand out from those passages; one, the west stinks out loud at long-term planning, and two, a determination to rely on sanctions even when they don’t accomplish much of anything is teaching – may have already taught – the world that the west is an unreliable commercial partner who is constantly assessing what it sells to you to determine if its market share equates to leverage it might use to direct your behavior as a nation. Kind of odd behavior for a bloc which is forever blabbering about freedom, isn’t it? Here’s a little whiff of nostalgia for you, Uncle Sam, circa 2006; remember this?

“Since the demise of the BAe, Douglas, and Fokker brands, and in light of the inability of Commonwealth of Independent States’ manufacturers to sell their equipment to Chinese operators in sizeable numbers, Boeing and Airbus essentially share the new equipment market. Given China’s past relationships with Commonwealth of Independent States’ manufacturers, there is some room in China’s market for Russian-and Ukraine-built aircraft if they offer performance characteristics similar to Western aircraft, attractive pricing, and after sales support comparable to Western manufacturers. However, this window of opportunity is closing, as China’s airlines invest heavily in support of infrastructure (training, parts, tools,etc.) geared towards Western models.”

Is a hazy picture starting to emerge? Is it possible to see a little more clearly what a disastrous decision it was to push Russia and China into a defensive, commercial, energy and policy alliance? Is it more realistic now to imagine a short-term future in which Russia and China increasingly stop buying western-built airplanes altogether in favour of building up their civil-aviation fleets with domestically-produced designs? If those aircraft demonstrate a reliable safety record and decent performance characteristics, is it possible to imagine a long-term future in which price, but more importantly political detachment by a Sino-Russian manufacturer brings increasing pressure on western regulators to certify their designs for international operations?

I thought it might be.

Source: The New Kremlin Stooge

  1. ken says

    Every nation,,, every person, should be as self sufficient as they can possibly be. Otherwise you are at the mercy of those that provide.

    1. richseeto says

      Only the Americans can apply sanctions on equipment sold that they can forever reserve the right on their usage and for what purpose.

      In the past, once a piece of equipment is sold and bought, it is up to the owner however the f@#$ you want or decide to use it or alter it or destroy it.

    2. Ron says

      Exactly…which is why EVERY country must take full ownership of their “sovereignty” and ultimately “their money creation”. When that happens, you can invest in your people, industry and future. Hmmm……sounds a lot like China and their “Industrial Capitalism”.

  2. Mark says

    Thanks for the shout-out, Marko!

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