US Government Weighs Blocking Engine Supply For The COMAC C919

In a battle over trade and technology between the world’s two largest economies, the United States government is considering whether it should stop General Electric from selling engines for the Chinese COMAC C919. The C919 was designed to compete with the Airbus A320neo and the Boeing 737 MAX.

Comac C919
The US is considering stopping GE engine sales for the COMAC C919. Photo: Getty

The single-aisle, twin-engine aircraft was supposed to be a third-option for buyers as Boeing and Airbus have essentially cornered the marketplace. However, besieged by manufacturing problems and now years behind schedule, this latest move by the United States is a further blow to China’s ambition of becoming the third major player in commercial aviation.

GE and Safran supply the C919 engines

Up until President Trump took office with his “Make America Great Again“ manifesto, previous United States governments had been encouraging American companies to do business with China.

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With regards to the COMAC C919, many of its components come from American and European companies, which have the Trump administration considering whether or not to deny General Electric’s license request to sell China its CFM LEAP-1C engine. The engine is a joint venture between GE and French aerospace company Safran. GE had been granted licenses to sell the engine to China from 2014, with the latest issued March of last year.

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Comac C919
The CFM LEAP-1C engine is a joint venture between GE and Safran. Photo: Getty

The new restriction on technological sales to China is something that is expected to be discussed during an emergency meeting. This February 28th meeting will consider further restraints on the sale of components to telecommunications giant Huawei.

As for the C919, nothing will prevent it from going into service as the Chinese domestic market is big enough to support its continued production. The Chinese would certainly find an alternative if it were unable to acquire GE’s engines.

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Honeywell supplies the flight control system

Any possible restriction on the sale of components would also likely encompass Honeywell International. The company supplies parts for the COMAC C919 flight control system. The flight control system supplied by Honeywell operates moving mechanical parts on the aircraft, such as the wing flaps, from inside the cockpit. Despite international news organization Reuters requests on the matter, the White House, GE, Safran, and Honeywell all declined to comment on the matter. One thing the Trump administration is sure to bring up is how Chinese engineers could reverse engineer some items for military purposes. Furthermore, consideration must be made on the impact the 158-174 seat C919 could have on Boeing sales.

Conclusion

Once more we are seeing politics stand in the way of business. This on-going trade war between the United States and China is a tit-for-tat tariff war that neither country wants.

While the Trump administration might think that threatening China by stopping GE engine sales is a good move, it could seriously backfire. In a recent Boeing industry forecast carried by CNBC, the Seattle planemaker said that China will soon become the world’s largest commercial aviation marketplace. According to the Boeing report, Chinese airlines will need to purchase 8,090 new aircraft between now and 2038.

COMAC-C919-Cockpit
Honeywell makes the flight control system for the C919. Photo: Getty

If the Trump administration were to go ahead and stop GE from supplying engines, China would almost certainly retaliate by buying new planes from Airbus rather than Boeing. This would be significant as Boeing relies on China for a quarter of its sales.

Will the United States stop GE from providing the C919 engines or is it just rhetoric, ahead of trade talks? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Henning

Luckily the CFM is made both in the US by GE and in Europe by Safran. The EU with Airbus and Safran would be happy to be the sole supplier to China. Have to remember that the world’s largest airplane manufacturer is Airbus and the largest single market is China

Ray

This is really good news if the Trump administration’s plan materializes. China is a rogue country with an ill intention to take over the world one day by whatever means available. The west should keep guard on all China-related issues.

Gerry S

Although it is certainly true that previous US administrations encouraged US aviation companies to do business with China, the field changed when China became autocratic. Previously leadership was temporary with a term limit. The present Chinese leader became a leader for life and set off on his military ambitions. The… Read more »

Frank

This is all political machinations to get China to re-certify the Max as soon as possible, as the grounding is costing .5 % of a GDP point to the US economy. Donnie doesn’t want the economy in the tank before the election, as the recession is right around the corner.

Phounsavath Phalavong

Let’s see how it plays out.

John

The Chinese deserve the tech for the C919 way more than Boeing. GE and the US government should be tripping over themselves.

Gerry S

@Frank:……This US action has NOTHING to do with MAX. It is separate and unconnected.

Roland Soh

Put it simply, Trump is trying to gain votes in the coming election. If the ban on export goes ahead, the business goes to Europeans.

Darker than Amber

@Henning Safran shares with the American corporation GE a joint venture producing the LEAP engine, what leads to obvious limitations as to the freedom of its sales: if the US blocks its export, Safran can do nothing other than to blame. Moreover, Safran depends itself on US licences (of GE,… Read more »

William

Such action will only accelerate the diminishment of American manufacturing. The Irkut MC21 is based around the PW 1400G geared turbofan however the Russian Federation deigned and made Aviadvigatel PD-14 geared turbofan is a backup almost ready for production. It is not inferior in terms of performance and superior in… Read more »

Oisín Butler

The U.S government are just scared that it will k**l the max of totally

WelcometoJamaica

If you don’t get into the China market, you stand to lose out particularly now with the virus likely putting many airlines out of business. The Chinese have a robust and fast growing domestic market which will sustain the domestic built C919 And should the US or EU fail to… Read more »

WelcometoJamaica

…and if you prefer to make yourself feel better with the “Made in China” is bad fallacy… See High Speed Rail or see Japan (Once derided by same asinine voices now calling China cheap copies). or see Huawei now an industry leader in 5G. One thing is certain the world… Read more »