BEIJING / Bloomberg
Airbus Group SE drew a line on how far it’s prepared to extend jetliner production into China, saying it won’t help competitors develop aircraft, and that the country’s wide-body orders don’t justify building its most lucrative models there.
No talks have taken place about construction of twin-aisle jets such as the A330 and A350 in China, Fabrice Bregier, who heads Airbus’s plane-making arm, said at a briefing in Tianjin, ahead
of the opening of a completion shop that will put the finishing touches on wide-bodies flown in from Europe.
At a short ceremony on Wednesday breaking ground on the finishing center, Bregier sat with officials from the Aviation Industry Corp. of China, the Tianjin municipality and China’s top economic planning agency against a bright red backdrop
emblazoned with an image of the A330.
Airbus will perform painting and cabin-fitting work for the wide-body jet at the new plant, as well as assembling four A320s a month at its existing Tianjin
facility for narrow-body planes. Rival Boeing Co. also is looking to open a single-aisle finishing center in China.
The A330 completion center, the company’s first for wide-body jets outside of Europe, “marks a new milestone for Airbus’s international footprint and underlines the strong cooperation with our Chinese partners,” Bregier said. “We will continue to look for future opportunities.”
Airbus and Boeing face a balancing act as they court a Chinese aviation market that’s expected to become the world’s biggest in the next two decades, dangling the prospect of manufacturing work without agreeing to a degree of technology transfer that might threaten their industry leadership.
Airbus and Boeing have enjoyed a duopoly in making large jets since the US company bought McDonnell Douglas in 1997 and Russian output faded after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2008 Airbus opened an assembly plant in Tianjin for the 1980s-vintage, single-aisle A320, where AVIC bolts together imported structures.
Bregier said planemaker Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac) is seen as “a very real competitor” that could become formidable sooner than the 20 years once envisaged.
Comac is turning to its own wide-body plans, possibly in conjunction with Russia, as its single-aisle C919 nears its first flight in the coming days.