US Seeks To Stifle China’s Aerospace Industry

Brian Benchoff
Published in
3 min readFeb 21, 2020

Despite the problems Boeing is facing over the 737 Max fiasco, the market for airliners has never been better. A report from Airbus says nearly 40,000 aircraft will be needed over the next twenty years. That’s a market worth multiple trillions of dollars.

Boeing and Airbus have captured the market with derivatives of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, with inroads being made with Bombardier CSeries/Airbus A220 and a partnership between Boeing and Embraer. The market is a duopoly, but one country wants to challenge that.

The COMAC C919 / Image Credit Weimeng /

Over the last decade, China has been growing their aerospace industry for a very good reason: China has an expected demand of over 8,000 aircraft over the next twenty years, representing nearly $1.3 Trillion dollars. To that end, Comac, the Chinese state-owned aerospace manufacturer, has been developing the C919, a twin-engine, single aisle aircraft capable of carrying between 150 and 190 passengers on short to medium-range routes. Effectively, China is cloning the 737 and A320 for their own domestic use. Better that money stay in China than to fly over to Boeing or Airbus, right?

The C919 project is progressing, with six aircraft built and being used for flight testing. The introduction of the airliner is planned to be 2021, with China Eastern Airlines. This planned introduction may now be in doubt, as the United States is considering blocking GE from selling jet engines to China.

The CFM LEAP engine, aboard an A321neo aircraft. Image: Airbus

The Comac C919 aircraft was designed around two engines, the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G, and the CFM International LEAP-1C, with the CFM being ultimately selected for the C919 program. Now, it may be possible that CFM International — a venture between GE aviation and France’s Safran — may not get the export licenses necessary to sell the LEAP engine to Comac. Such a development would be a devastating blow to Comac; as Boeing knows, you can’t sell planes without an engine.

This is potentially the next salvo in the US-China trade war; denying the Comac C919 an engine would cripple the burgeoning aerospace industry in China, and send trillions of dollars from China to Boeing and Airbus.

There is a solution for China and Comac; the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (ACAE) has been developing their own engine, expressly designed for the C919 aircraft. The ACAE CJ-1000A has performance similar to the CFM LEAP-1C and PW1000G, but to China it is a native engine, built domestically. The CJ-1000A was unveiled in 2012, and has been in testing ever since. However, this engine might not be ready for service until 2030.