Never in the four years since we launched this site have we seen such a flurry of spirited debate over multiple stories that appeared last week. To prove the case, when we see someone take issue with one of Nate’s pieces we have to assume Mars went into retrograde or at least something like that. Many of the comments came as a result of Stuart’s story last week, Boeing and Airbus Put on Notice: China’s Comac Breaking Up the Duopoly Party.
The comments ranged from my own (“I wouldn’t set foot on a Chinese plane until China had a long history of a strong safety record”) to “It should not be all that difficult for them [China] to overtake America in many fields, considering that it [US] can’t wean itself off a cumbersome medieval measuring system. Boeing’s much-delayed Dreamliner is a perfect example of what happens when you outsource precision work to metric countries that have neither the feel nor a clue about that obsolete anachronism. Airbus has no problem manufacturing in China and outsourcing around the globe because they speak all the same measurement language” — along with a slew of comments in between the two.
The “measurement comment on first blush appeared outrageous to us, so we placed a few calls to industry contacts to gain better insight into the validity of that argument. One industry veteran said, “This was a national topic, I believe in the 70s. I wish we had converted then. We would be through the pain by now. It does create issues, but many foreign companies have been successful at providing goods based on our medieval system. Or else we would not have accumulated the huge trade imbalance!
David Yoho, a senior vice president at Vulcanium Metals, a titanium supplier to the aerospace industry, gave us his thoughts on the C919. “The C919 will not compete with the 737 or A320,” he said. “The C919 uses mid-80s Airbus technology and serves fundamentally as Comac’s ‘learning curve.’ The real question becomes the next plane. The A320neo, Bombardier C-Series, or 737 re-engine would make far better sense to a world-class carrier as evidenced by the current backlog.”
Yoho also shared with us that it took about two years for MIG production to shift from Russia to China. In addition, China’s high-speed trains “are a nearly exact copy of Japanese technology, though he acknowledged the trains had a few cosmetic changes along with a tweaked engine. Business planning cycles in China, like the rest of the world, span decades into the future, according to Yoho. With regard to China, Yoho said, “Although I don’t see China having the luxury of the next ten years to get their quality figured out, global consumers do have patience. The Chinese have studied the Japan/Russian models to competing globally and will certainly have their nuances, but have business cases to learn from.
Certainly both Boeing and Airbus recognize that China will have its own aerospace production industry. Both firms already have some level of manufacturing in China today, according to Yoho. “A political element exists for these firms as they need to create jobs in those markets to sell planes in those countries.
As for the comment on America’s archaic measurement system, Yoho had this to say: “Boeing is a leader in global supply chain management. The comment below has no basis in reality. [I] Suggest he picks up a copy of the ËœWorld is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman.