Boeing's CEO downplays threat from China's C919 commercial flight

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun dismisses concerns over China's maiden C919 commercial flight, maintaining it poses no immediate threat to the longstanding Boeing-Airbus duopoly.
Daniel Lehewych
Boeing 747

In a development that could signal a shakeup in the commercial aviation sector, China's maiden commercial flight of the domestically produced C919 narrowbody jet successfully flew passengers from Shanghai to Beijing this Sunday.

According to Reuters, this achievement, helmed by China Eastern Airlines, is a notable milestone for the jet's manufacturer, the Commercial Aviation Corp of China (COMAC).

However, Boeing Co CEO Dave Calhoun has dismissed the notion that the successful C919 flight could threaten the long-standing duopoly of the U.S. plane maker and its European rival Airbus SE. Calhoun acknowledged the C919 as a "good airplane." Still, he emphasized that COMAC has a "long while" to go before it can meet the demands of Chinese airlines in terms of production capacity.

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Calhoun asserted, "Three providers in a growing global market of this size and scale should not be the most intimidating thought in the world." However, he dismissed any anxiety over the situation, calling it a "silly prospect."

Calhoun suggested that Boeing remain focused on existing competition and strive to "win that technology race." Despite geopolitical tensions causing "fits and starts" in business proceedings, he maintained that China remains "our friend, our customer."

This year saw Chinese airlines reintroducing the 737 MAX into service. However, jet delivery remains stalled amidst escalating friction between the U.S. and China. Speaking at Boeing's facilities in Charleston, South Carolina, Calhoun pointed to a Chinese aviation regulator's report on the 737, hailing it as an "important step" for resuming MAX deliveries.

As the industry anticipates the upcoming orders bonanza of the Paris Air Show, Boeing appears unfazed by potential threats, including rival offerings and supply-chain snarls. For example, when asked about Airbus possibly launching a stretched version of its A220 to compete with Boeing's 737 MAX 8, Calhoun confidently stated, "That does not give me heartburn."

Calhoun Dismisses Threat

Calhoun also dismissed the importance of regaining a 50% market share for narrowbody plane orders against Airbus. Instead, he argued that Boeing's market share losses over the past four years primarily resulted from its inability to deliver airplanes due to the MAX crisis and subsequent supply-chain and production issues.

China's Aviation Leap

Rumors of Boeing potentially re-acquiring Spirit AeroSystems, a company spun off from Boeing in 2005, were also shot down by Calhoun. Despite Spirit being a source of multiple issues that stalled Boeing deliveries, including a 737 MAX bracket installation flaw, Calhoun affirmed that these problems "are solvable, and I don't think you acquire a company to solve it."

The successful maiden flight of the C919 represents a significant leap for China's commercial aviation industry. However, the response from Boeing suggests the road to breaking the current duopoly may still be extended.

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