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Mon, Apr 10, 2023

China Tempers Wide-Body Acquisitions

Eastern Promises

In a move certain to make waves as far as Toulouse, China has made public its intention to assume a more temperate posture regarding Beijing’s acquisition of large Airbus jets. The move belies the Middle Kingdom’s ravenous demand for A320neo medium-haul aircraft—the accommodation of which has forced Airbus to double production at the consortium’s Tianjin, China final assembly facility.

In a joint statement issued Friday, 07 April 2023—following socialist French president Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to Beijing—Chinese communist leaders asserted: "The two countries will in due course study the freight and long-haul needs of Chinese airlines, depending on the recovery and development of China's air transport market and fleet.”

The joint Franco-Sino statement went on to laud an agreement authorizing delivery of 150 A320neo and ten A350 jets previously sold to China by Airbus. No new airplane orders, however, were announced during Macron’s visit.

Airbus is currently marketing a freighter version of its long-range, wide-body A350 aircraft and hopes to sell larger numbers of its widebody jets—which is to say the A330 and A350 models—to China in the coming years. Airbus’s aspiration to shift units of its A350 to Chinese air-carriers is underscored by the 2021 opening of an A350 completion center in China.

While Chinese domestic airline traffic has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels following the nation’s COVID-19 lockdowns, international air traffic into and through China is only about thirty-percent of what it was in 2019.

Boeing’s expectation of securing large Chinese orders of its 787 Dreamliner have been waylaid by the deepening rift in Sino-U.S. relations following the detection, tracking, and ultimate destruction of a Chinese spy balloon over American soil in February 2023.

With Chinese demand for international air travel and long-haul aircraft continuing to lag behind the nation’s demand for domestic air travel and narrow-body planes, aviation industry analysts posit Chinese airlines have ample time—for now—to wait out political tensions for purpose of capitalizing on détente. With Boeing returned to the bargaining table at some future date, Beijing ensures maximum competition between Airbus and Boeing, thereby affording itself opportunity to stretch whatever monies it ultimately commits to the acquisition of long-haul airliners.

The joint Chinese-French statement concluded with an announcement that European and Chinese regulators would presently accelerate certification of Airbus’s H175 helicopter, Dassault Aviation’s 8X business jet, and the Chinese-built Harbin Y12F turboprop utility aircraft.

Co-developed by Airbus Helicopters and Chinese aerospace conglomerate AVIC, the H175 is widely employed in air-ambulance and police operations. The helicopter’s Chinese iteration has been certified by China’s civil aviation authority; the helicopter’s French version, however, has not. Ergo, French-built H175s cannot yet be exported to China.

In a statement of its own, Airbus Helicopters announced the sale of fifty of its new, multi-mission H160 helicopters to Chinese lessor GDAT. The deal was signed during Macron's visit and represents the largest and richest sale of the type since the model’s 2015 introduction.



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