is offering to build an completion center in China, probably in Tianjin, says a manufacturing industry official, as the European airframer steps up efforts to promote the type as an answer to China’s shortage of pilots, technicians and airspace capacity.
In return for the completion center, Airbus is asking China to commit to buying a large number of A330s, possibly 200, says the official.
The Chinese government, which heavily influences aircraft purchase by the mainly state-owned airline industry, is still considering the offer. The proposal has accompanied Airbus attempts to promote lightweight certification of the A330 as creating a Chinese version of the type, whileis arguing that narrowbodies offer better economics for China’s domestic routes.
The offer completion center has apparently been made as part of talks for orders to fill requirements for the next five-year planning period, 2016-20, although the facility and its deliveries would presumably last longer than that.
A completion center equips flyable but unfinished aircraft with interior fittings. While the work would not reach the technological level of Avic’s manufacturing ofFamily wings in Xian, completing twin-aisle aircraft with customized interiors is something that the Chinese industry will have to do properly if it is to build its proposed Comac C929 widebody. Such a facility would also offer some of the prestige of delivering complete aircraft from a Chinese factory. A factory at Tianjin owned by Airbus and Avic assembles A320s.
Airbus is specially promoting the A330 in China, where the type has become something of a late bloomer. It did not appear in Chinese mainland airline fleets until 2005, but since then it has turned into a mainstream type, especially common on routes with at least one congested airport. A330s dominates the country’s premier air route, linking Beijing Capital and Shanghai Honqiao airports, neither of which has much spare capacity.
Airbus announced in Beijing in September that it could certify the A330-300 for lower maximum weights. This would limit the aircraft’s range but cut trip costs for customers, not Chinese customers, that wanted to use the type only on short and medium routes. The move has been promoted in China as creating a Chinese domestic version of the A330—although it is not a version in any sense, since, apart from squeezing in more seats, light A330-300s would be the same as any others; they would just come with different paperwork.
China has an unfilled requirement for several hundred aircraft for 2016 to 2020, or at least it has not reported enough orders to fill that need. The head of Airbus’s commercial aircraft business in China, Eric Chen, says he is tasked with ensuring that by 2020 more than half of China’s mainland airliners in service are from Airbus. Currently, Boeing predominates. Chen predicts that China’s fleet of such aircraft will rise from about 2,000 now to 4,000 by the end of the period, implying about 7% annual growth.
While Airbus and Boeing agree that the average size of airliners in China has been rising and will continue to rise, partly because of shortages of pilots, technicians and airspace capacity, they disagree about the applicability of widebody aircraft. Chen predicts “wider use of widebody aircraft.” Ihssane Mounir, Boeing’s senior vice president of sales for Northeast Asia, asserts that widebody on domestic markets cannot “currently offer the same level of per-seat operating costs as single-aisle aircraft.”
The 787-10 is Boeing’s offer as an A330 replacement. Chinese airlines are showing “very strong interest” in it as a complement for theand 787-9 and as an A330 replacement, says Mounir.
For the orders for China’s 2011-15 planning period, Boeing made the mistake of holding open too few production slots while the Chinese bureaucracy moved slowly towards making its decisions, say industry officials. Airbus benefited from having more patience. Boeing has learned from the mistake, says an executive with the company, meaning that it is holding open plenty of slots this time. It is doubtful that China will be able to buy many units of the re-engined versions of either manufacturers’ narrowbodies for delivery by 2020, however, since A320 Neos and 737 MAXs have been selling so well elsewhere.