China Enters The Engine Market

China’s decision to pursue domestic commercial engine development marks the latest step in its bid to realise an autonomous, fully capable aviation industry.

Unsurprisingly, China’s two largest aircraft companies – AVIC and COMAC – will be shareholders in the new Aero Engine Group of China (AEGC), which will be capitalised with $7.5bn.

AEGC will amalgamate about 93,000 employees from smaller companies, but further details about the venture are sparse.

Liu Tingyi, president of the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment, has said the new company will produce “strategic aircraft engines”, but it’s hard to say whether that means AEGC will initially prioritise widebody or narrowbody powerplants.

China’s forthcoming narrowbody, the C919, is too advanced in its programme to design an engine from scratch for, so the proposed Russian-Chinese widebody seems a likelier goal to aim for.

However, even though that aircraft barely exits on paper, it may still arrive too early for AEGC, whose starting budget is barely three-quarters of what Pratt & Whitney is estimated to have spent on the PW1000G geared turbofan.

And speaking to CCTV, Liu implied that scientific advancement, rather than an end product, will remain AEGC’s priority for the time being.

"We will try to find a path along which we can make independent innovation in conducting fundamental researches ... making breakthroughs in key technologies and producing strategic aircraft engines. In the meantime, we hope to help upgrade our country's science and technology," he told the broadcaster.

This is a sensible attitude, and one probably informed by China’s long-running struggles to develop military jet engines that come anywhere near the power and reliability of Western models.

Admittedly, development may proceed quicker on the civil front, where the latest technology from GE, Rolls-Royce and Pratt can be perused at any Chinese airport, unlike their military engines, which are prohibited from export to China.

Nonetheless, developing technology to beat the performance and hardiness of modern commercial turbofans is a huge challenge even for those with decades of experience on the sector.

Just ask ANA and Rolls-Royce. 

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