C919 aircraft
A Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd. (Comac) C919 aircraft operated by China Eastern Airlines Corp. during the Singapore Airshow in Singapore, on Wednesday, February 21, 2024. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Chinese state-owned planemaker COMAC has the opportunity to break Airbus and Boeing’s duopoly of the passenger jet market over the next decade, the chief of aircraft leasing company Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) told Reuters.

Airbus and Boeing are the main suppliers of aircraft to airlines, but the European planemaker is struggling to boost production amid record orders and Boeing is under scrutiny from regulators after a mid-air panel blowout on a new plane in January.

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The narrow-body C919 jet, which is manufactured by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) and is pitted against Airbus’ A320 and Boeing’s 737 MAX, is a “perfectly fine aircraft”, Firoz Tarapore said in a recent interview.

“Over the next decade COMAC has a unique opportunity to break this duopoly into a triopoly because on the one hand Airbus is sold out, and Boeing is having production problems,” he said in Dubai this month.

STOCK DAE Dubai Aerospace Enterprise
DAE's CEO Firoze Tarapore said that the demand for aircraft from China and nearby countries is “extremely robust”. Image Credit: WAM

COMAC’s planes fly almost exclusively within China and with one Indonesian airline. The planemaker is pursuing certification with Europe’s aviation regulator for its C919 jet while also looking for international customers.

Aviation industry sources, however, caution that COMAC is a long way from making inroads internationally, especially without benchmark certifications from the United States or European Union, or more efficient planes.

Tarapore said that the demand for aircraft from China and nearby countries is “extremely robust” and that COMAC has a “a very good chance of making a solid inroad”.

Aircraft delivery delays

As global travel surged after the pandemic, airlines rushed to order new planes. But problems in the aerospace supply chain and aircraft maintenance industry, including labour shortages and engine issues, have resulted in delivery delays of new jets complicating airline growth plans and garnering COMAC attention.

Airbus has said production slots for its popular A320 family of aircraft are sold out until the end of the decade.

Boeing, on the other hand, is engulfed in a sprawling safety crisis. It faces investigations by U.S. regulators, possible prosecution over past actions and slumping production of its strongest-selling jet, the 737 MAX.

Tarapore said he hopes Boeing will initiate structural and cultural change that results in the “production of high-quality aircraft at a rate that is in line with historical standards and consistent with what Boeing needs to produce to stay relevant”.

Problems at Boeing are slowing supplies for DAE, one of the world’s top 10 lessors, with a 500-strong fleet of owned, managed or ordered aircraft. DAE has previously said it expects to receive only around half the number of aircraft from Boeing this year than the planemaker had committed to deliver.

“In 30 years from now, I believe we will not be talking about a duopoly, we will definitely be an industry where COMAC plays a much more significant role,” Tarapore said.