There’s more than one way to skin a cat. And there’s more than one way to report a story. For example, will dozens of Chinese-made passenger planes soon be winging their way through the skies of the United States? After this last week’s news, most readers and viewers here in China would probably say yes. Others might say otherwise. The development of the ARJ21 is certainly a big deal. But what exactly was the deal signed with GE on Tuesday?
CHINA TO SELL 25 REGIONAL JETS TO U.S. MARKET
GE TO BUY FIVE CHINESE PLANES
China signed its biggest aircraft export deal, in terms of the number of jets and contract value, on Tuesday at the 7th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition here.
The Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) will sell 25 ARJ21-700 regional jets to GE Commercial Aviation Services of the United States.
General Electric Co. signed a deal Tuesday here to purchase five 70-seater regional passenger jets from Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, or Comac, but will the plane ever fly outside China, especially in the U.S. or Europe?
On Tuesday, GE’s leasing unit GE Commercial Aviation Services placed a “firm order” for five ARJ21-700s at the Zhuhai air show in southern China. The deal includes an option to buy 20 more.
The deal is valued at 5 billion yuan (733 million U.S. dollars).
If all the jets are purchased, the contract would be valued at as much as $750 million. GE also supplies engines for the ARJ21.
So, at this stage, the order is for five planes, not 25, though there might be a fixed order for up to 20 more in the future. GE will be leasing the planes to airlines. Where?
Roger N. Seager, vice president of the GE Commercial Aviation Services… said more clients have shown an interest in the ARJ21. “Some customers of GE Aviation have already expressed interest. I can’t tell you the names but there are Chinese customers, and European and American customers as well.”
Asked if the ARJ21 will ever fly in the U.S., Mr. Seager stressed the ARJ21 is “global aircraft” and is aimed at both Chinese domestic and global customers. The GE executive acknowledged the Chinese regional jet’s immediate potentials are in China, “but that we’ve got a lot of interest, for example, coming out of Europe for the aircraft.”
Mike Wilking, head of GE’s aviation sales for China, said GE plans to lease those aircraft to China’s domestic airline companies to be used within China.
So the planes aren’t actually being exported. For now, at least, all the orders seem to be for Chinese flights.
U.S. government officials and aerospace industry insiders foresee grim prospects for the ARJ21-700 in advanced aviation markets, citing issues around customer acceptance and apparent certification problems it has encountered with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. “It will never fly in the U.S.,” said one U.S. government official, who declined to be named.
Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. China’s growing market (once the current financial storm has passed) should be big enough to carry its aircraft through initial skepticism and teething trouble. In the meantime, though, those five and twenty “exports” look as if they’ll be staying right here.