Will China gain more control of the aerospace supply chain?

News Analysis




Will China gain more control of the aerospace supply chain?

Chinese news outlets reported that the C919 domestic large aircraft has received over 1,200 orders.

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) is a state-owned enterprise entering the commercial aircraft space, having launched its program back in 2008. The first commercial C919 aircraft was delivered to China Eastern Airlines in December 2022, with its maiden flight in May 2023, following the aircraft receiving its Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) certificate in September 2022. China Eastern Airlines has since signed a purchase agreement for a further 100 aircraft to be delivered between 2024 and 2031, receiving its fourth aircraft in January 2024.

The aerospace industry is still finding its way out of an unprecedented multi-year downturn, which started with the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX fleet in 2018/19 after two fatal crashes and was followed by the grounding of global fleets during the COVID-19 pandemic. The war in Ukraine and low consumer confidence amidst high inflation are amongst other factors which have negatively impacted the sector.

These setbacks hit aerospace players hard, Boeing in particular. The aerospace giant has faced ongoing issues with the re-certification of the 737 MAX, and two more incidents early in 2024 suggest that problems are not over with. In early January, a piece of fuselage fell off an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 jet, while later in the month a nose wheel fell off a Delta Airlines Boeing 757 passenger jet and rolled away as the plane lined up for takeoff.

COMAC thus enters the market at a difficult time for suppliers - although the good news is that revenue passenger kilometres (the measure of how much people are flying) are now back to pre-pandemic levels. Importantly, there is considerable upside for demand in the domestic China market and China’s aerospace supply chain will need to ramp up to meet new domestic demand. This will impact numerous metal supply chains and none more so than titanium. Titanium sponge production has soared in China from a typical share of 30-40% of global production to over 60% in 2023. While most of the supply is still focused on industrial applications, aerospace-grade market penetration will likely follow if new demand is there and if the war in Ukraine continues to impact demand for Russian material.