China’s airlines prioritize COMAC, put off Airbus and Boeing

Shutterstock / Markus Mainka

China’s big three airlines postponed delivery of over 100 aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, prioritizing the Chinese aircraft manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC). 

In 2020, the main Chinese carriers – China Southern Airlines (ZNH), China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) and Air China postponed a total of 58 planes from Boeing and 53 from Airbus. China Southern Airlines (ZNH) has put off 44 planes, while China Eastern Airlines (CIAH) (CEA) and Air China has postponed 43 and 24 planes respectively. 

However, the airlines kept every order from the domestic manufacturer COMAC, supporting the company during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the three national carriers added a total of 12 ARJ21, small regional jets with 78 to 90 seats, into their fleets as planned. 

China Eastern has committed to purchase 20 ARJ21s while it is also the launch customer of the C919, the first Chinese independently developed large narrow-body aircraft, designed to seat between 158 and 168 passengers. C919 aims to compete with the best-selling models of the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737. Meanwhile, China Southern has announced a plan to purchase 35 ARJ21s by 2024.

The government has been supporting COMAC in an effort to find a spot in a commercial jet market largely dominated by the United States and Europe. In October 2020, Feng Zhanglin, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, the airline regulator, said, “CAAC will do everything in its power to support the nationally built civil aircraft business.”

“There will definitely be more continued support for COMAC,” said David Yu, a finance professor at New York University Shanghai. “The question is just how fast and how much more addition.”

Currently, the proportion of Chinese-built civil aircraft in use for regional aviation has reached 33% and is expected to keep growing as COMAC ARJ21 will slowly replace the retiring Embraer E190 and Bombardier CRJ models, according to a conference report released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China on January 12, 2021.

On January 14, 2021, the Trump administration imposed an investment ban on the Chinese aircraft manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), due to the alleged ties to the Chinese military. The sanctions could potentially bar United States-based suppliers from supplying the company thus halting the production.


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