Tag Archives: Avic

China Revs Up Its Jet Engine Making

JET ENGINES FOR aircraft have long been high on Beijing’s lengthy priority list of technologies to be indigenized. The current Five-Year Plan has aviation engines in the top 10 of 100 state-sponsored projects over the next 15 years intended to increase the country’s technological capability.

China has now formally launched the Aero Engine Corp. of China (AECC) to build them, with a ceremony in Beijing on August 28th. Two former Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC) executives, Cao Jianguo and Li Fangyong, were appointed party secretary and chairman and deputy party secretary and general manager respectively earlier this year.

They will be running a company being created out of more than 40 firms working on some aspect of jet engines. These include three listed companies, AVIC Aviation Engine Corp, Sichuan Chengfa Aero-Science & Technology Co. and AVIC Aero-Engine Controls Co.

AECC will have initial capital of $7.5 billion and start with 96,000 employees. AVIC, which makes military aircraft, and Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac), which makes the C919, China’s biggest domestically-produced passenger plane, are investors in AECC along with the government.

Creating a jet-engine behemoth by merging lots of smaller companies fits the pattern adopted for the rail equipment makers and in some basic industries—consolidating the state-owned sector to create national champions that can be globally competitive.

Galleon, a Shanghai-based aviation consultancy, has estimated that China will invest $300 billion over the next 20 years in aircraft engine development, a sector in which progress to date has been weak.

This is all part of a grand vision for advanced manufacturing, encapsulated in the Made in China 2025 document made public in March, which includes the longstanding ambition to rival the world’s two leading aircraft makers, Europe’s Airbus and the United States’ Boeing. Chinese-built airliners will need Chinese-built engines, not those bought from General Electric, United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney or Rolls-Royce.

It is not just civil airliners that will need Chinese engines. Increasingly so, too, will China’s domestically built military aircraft, which now use mostly Russian engines or inferior Chinese-designed ones. The PLA-Air Force’s J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters, for example, cannot fly at supersonic speeds like their closest rivals without using after-burners, which makes them detectable by radar.

“The founding of [AECC] is a strategic move that will help enhance national power as well as the capacity of the armed forces”, President Xi Jinping said in a message to this weekend’s ceremony, and called for a speeding up of R&D and manufacturing of aircraft engines “to make China an aviation industry power”.

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China’s Flying Boats To Take Wing

Artist's impression of AVIC's AG600 seaplane, courtesy AVIC

THIS BYSTANDER IS reminded of an old Cold War joke about a Russian-English translation machine that kept spitting out ‘water sheep’ when it meant ‘hydraulic ram’. Something similar is happening in Chinese military circles where ‘seaplane’ has been transmogrified into ‘amphibious aircraft’.

The difference is that planes that can operate on water have military value to a country whose national interests concern the disputed waters of the East and South China seas and the increasing projection of littoral power.

Japan already has seven seaplanes — three older U.S.-built ones and four indigenous versions, the most recent being a 2007 Shinmaywa US-2 — to patrol its islands. The PLA-Navy has five 1980s-era Shuihong (SH)-5 patrol seaplanes in service, one of which reportedly crashed in 2013 near the PLA-Navy’s Northern Fleet airbase at Qingdao.

For the past six years it has been known that Aviation Industry Corp.’s China Aviation Industry General Aircraft subsidiary was building a giant modern flying boat, the TA-600 Water Dragon (and investing in seaplane companies around the world ). The aircraft, now relabelled the AG600, is in advanced production. The image above is a AVIC artist’s impression.

AVIC AG600 fuselage seen at a ceremony for final assembly The picture to the right, of a celebration for the completed assembly of the fuselage, was published by state media in July. The turboprop AG600 is expected to make its maiden test flight early in the new year.  AVIC has made a commercial single-pilot light seaplane, the HO300, since 2010.

The AG-600 is larger than the Shinmaywa US-2, which would make it the world’s largest seaplane. It can carry up to 50 passengers and has a range of 5,000 kilometers. AVIC says it can be modred to meet the needs of “maritime surveillance, resource detection, passenger and cargo transport”.

At the 2014 Zhuhai air show, where the AG600’s forward fuselage was on show, AVIC said it had two firm orders, one for search and rescue and one for firefighting, from an unnamed customer, but which is thought to be the coast guard.

Militarily, the plane could undertake patrol and supply roles for China’s expanding islands in the South China Sea (all that dredging creates ideal landing channels for seaplanes), and, alongside  China’s blue-water amphibious assault vessels, be part of an amphibious assault force. With a range of 5,000 kilometers, they could project power far beyond the littoral.

It all fits with the development of the naval capabilities that has let the PLA-Navy deploy off the Horn of Africa (anti-piracy), Libya and Yemen (evacuation of Chinese nationals) in recent years.

In 2011, an article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings wrote,

In the United States, analysis of China’s nascent amphibious fleet is de-emphasized in favor of monitoring China’s pursuit of a training carrier, long-range ballistic “carrier-killer” missiles and other “sexier” weaponry, reflecting a wider, deep-seated bias within the American national-security community. To Washington defense elites, China’s low-tech amphibious platforms are comfortably unthreatening.

Same sees true today of its flying boat.


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New ABC Of Aerospace

The C919, a 190-seat commercial jet, won’t take to the air for at least half a decade, and not enter service for at least a couple of years after that, but it will be the largest home-built airliner to be constructed in China, and will mark a significant advance for an industry Beijing has earmarked as a national champion and global competitor. Models of the plane, to be built by Shanghai-based Comac, an acronym for Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China and part of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp. of China (Avic), have gone on show in Hong Kong. (It was announced in March.)

Comac already builds a 90-seat jet, the ARJ-21, for which it says it has around 200 orders on its books. The new jet liner is potentially competitive bad news down the road for Airbus and Boeing, the two global aerospace giants who see the Chinese market as one of their great hopes for the future, and whose A320 and 737 models now dominate the regional jet section of the market. The overall Chinese market for commercial aircraft is forecast to expand fivefold over the next 20 years. That means orders for more than 2,000 aircraft to scrap over, as China expands it aerospace industry’s focus from military to civilian. Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines can all be expected to do their patriotic duty.

It would be rash to assume that the Chinese plane maker will stay third in the trinity of Airbus, Boeing and Comac. Equally, the challenge shouldn’t be underestimated. Comac is starting from scratch, having been set up only last year with the purpose of developing China’s first airliners. It has given itself eight to 10 years to develop the C919, compared to the six it typically takes the more practiced Airbus or Boeing. It will need to rely on foreign-made engines, avionics and other components for its early models as it learns to build its own, and perfects its aviation grade aluminum and composites. It will also have to learn how to get its airliners internationally certified if it wants global sales. The ARJ-21 isn’t yet certified in the U.S. for example.

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