A Future Russian-Chinese Widebody and the Asia-Pacific Market

Following on from my blog post last week about the FT’s Asian Aerospace report and Twitter chat, the announcement that China and Russia are to work together to develop a new wide body aircraft raises further questions about the demand for platforms in the Asia-Pacific region over the next 20 years.

Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) has stated that they will continue to work with China (almost certainly COMAC) to study the wide body market for viability, and that any entry into service could be around 2023-25.  As highlighted in Aviation Week’s article on the announcement, this entry into service date is designed to coincide with airlines seeking possible replacements for their A330s and to compete with the 787.

In the APAC region in particular, the future wide-body market is both the most interesting and the most undefined. Large city pairs which carry greater numbers of passengers, combined with the changing ambitions of Chinese nationals to travel to Europe and North America, means that there is sufficient demand for wide-body aircraft – but across a much wider range of different potential domestic and international operations.

This means airlines will seek increasing flexibility from manufacturers. Airbus, for example, are having serious discussions about potentially presenting a re-engined A330, to go with its new regional A330 option, in order to meet the future demand for such platforms – whilst cutting the costs associated with developing an entirely new aircraft type. As such, a new, cheaper, long range, domestically built airliner with more modern technology than may be found on a 787 Dreamliner, could significantly appeal to Asian carriers.

The big question mark however remains on capacity to deliver and ability to achieve certification (especially as the C9191 and MS-21 have not even had their first flights). Airlines will not compromise on safety, regardless of other benefits. A COMAC-UAC wide-body will have a lot of hurdles to jump and milestones to achieve along the way before it can attract significant numbers of customers away from Airbus & Boeing. However, with the market diverse and potentially lucrative, this is a future development which UK companies seeking new opportunities should keep a close eye on.