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Who will build 7,400 planes for China?


With estimates that China will need nearly 7,500 new jetliners in the next 18 years, that's a question that will be getting a lot of attention in the coming months, as tariffs, competition and China's own ambitions are in the mix.

Boeing has had more than the majority of sales to Chinese airlines in recent years, although Airbus's willingness to assemble in China has tightened the competiton. With U.S. tariffs set to rise under Pres. Trump, the balance could shift decisively to Airbus for new orders—if it has the capacity to take that many new orders, which it may not.

The third factor is the development of China's own aircraft industry, a major point in the country's plan for expanding industrial development. Its C939 airliner, designed to compete with Airbus's A320 and Boeing's 737 has had serious delays in development, but if it can be in full production by 2020 or 2021, it could grab some of those orders. It already has an order book filled with several hundred orders from state-owned airlines.

It also has a project in the works for a 300-seat and a 400-seat widebody, in a joint venture with a Russian company, but those planes, competitors for the 777, 787, A330 and A350 are about 10 years away from service.

Turning back to the need estimates, which come from Airbus's researchers, China is estimated to need 6,180 planes in the A320/737 market; 870 in the smaller wide-body category and 240 in the long-range and intercontinental sizes. The imbalance is due to China's rapid development of dense point-to-point flights among its many and far-flung cities.

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