By Alex Macheras
Airbus has this week delivered the first A350 from its widebody completion & delivery centre in Tianjin (C&DC), China — a significant milestone in the expansion of its global footprint and long-term strategic partnership with China.
The A350-900 aircraft was delivered to China Eastern Airlines, the largest Airbus operator in Asia and second largest in the world. At the end of June 2021, China Eastern Airlines operated an Airbus fleet of 413 aircraft, including 349 A320 Family aircraft, 55 A330 Family aircraft and nine A350 aircraft.
“I’m proud that Airbus successfully extended the capability of the widebody C&DC in Tianjin to the A350, the latest new generation aircraft, at such a difficult time of global aviation,” said George Xu, Airbus executive vice president and Airbus China CEO. “This is a new milestone in the long-term co-operation between China and Airbus, which further demonstrates Airbus’ commitment to the country. Congratulations to China Eastern Airlines, our long-term strategic partner, for receiving the first A350 delivered from China, and I appreciate their trust in Airbus and in our products as always.”
Located at the same site as the Airbus Tianjin A320 Family Final Assembly Line and the Airbus Tianjin Delivery Centre, the widebody C&DC covers the aircraft completion activities, including cabin installation, aircraft painting and production flight test, as well as customer flight acceptance and aircraft delivery.
The centre was inaugurated in September 2017 with its capability on A330s. Then, during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to China in 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding on the Further Development of Industrial Co-operation was signed in Beijing by He Lifeng, Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China, and Guillaume Faury, Airbus chief executive officer, announcing the C&DC would extend its capability to A350 aircraft.
By the end of June 2021, the A350 Family had received 915 firm orders from 49 customers worldwide, making it one of the most successful widebody aircraft ever. Elsewhere in China, China’s first passenger jet is nearing Beijing’s approval to start commercial flights. With the launch of the single-aisle C919, an industry dominated by Europe’s Airbus and its US rival Boeing faces a new, and geopolitically influential competitor: State-backed aerospace company Comac. Comac has announced close to 1,000 orders and options for the plane, mainly from domestic customers. The first delivery, to China Eastern Airlines, is due to take place by the end of this year. The emergency of the C919 has both Airbus and Boeing recognising the inevitable shake up in competition ahead. Guillaume Faury, Airbus chief executive, recently acknowledged Comac’s rise, telling an industry event “we will probably go from a duopoly to a triopoly, at least on the single aisle, by the end of the decade”.
While the pandemic has shattered the global aviation sector to new lows, China is still on course to become the world’s largest aviation market. Boeing predicts the country’s airlines will acquire a total of 8,600 new planes over the next 20 years.
Elsewhere, a group of seven Thai airlines are seeking a combined 5bn baht ($152.16mn) in low interest loans from the Thai government to help weather the effects of the coronavirus crisis, the Thai Airlines Association said yesterday. The seven airlines had initially requested $770mn in soft loans, but had not received government support.
Thailand’s aviation regulator last week stopped domestic flights to and from Bangkok as new causes surged. Around 170 aircraft belonging to the seven airlines have been grounded, and collectively they have been racking up employment expenses of around 900mn baht a month, the association said in a statement.
The industry group includes Bangkok Airways, budget carrier Thai AirAsia, Thai AirAsia X, Thai VietJet, Thai LionAir, Nok Air and Thai Smile, a unit of the flag carrier Thai Airways.
“If we can secure the loan, we can go on until the end of the year” said Thai VietJet CEO, Woranate Laprabang.
In the US, The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said that some undelivered Boeing 787 Dreamliners have a new manufacturing quality issue that the largest US planemaker will fix before the planes will be delivered.
The FAA said this week that the issue is “near the nose on certain 787 Dreamliners in the company’s inventory of undelivered airplanes. This issue was discovered as part of the ongoing system-wide inspection of Boeing’s 787 shimming processes required by the FAA.”
The FAA added that “although the issue poses no immediate threat to flight safety, Boeing has committed to fix these airplanes before resuming deliveries.”
* The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir
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