COMAC is the main organization that is facilitating the building of large passenger aircraft in China. The company is mandated with the overall planning and development of trunk liner and regional jet programs, as well as the industrialization of civil aircraft. It is building the new C919 jet, which will use aluminum-lithium alloys and composites in its airframe structures.
COMAC also recently signed a long-term collaboration agreement with Bombardier. Initially, the companies will collaborate on four projects that recognize the similarities between the C919 and Bombardier's CSeries family of commercial airliners. One of the projects is developing standards and specifications for the use of aluminum-lithium in aircraft.
Several different companies and organizations jointly own COMAC, including the Aluminum Corporation of China, also known as China Aluminum Corp. (CHINALCO or CHINCO). CHINALCO has reportedly announced the third generation of its 540mm aluminum-lithium alloy for use in large aircraft.
The company has spent several years in R&D working on aluminum alloys for China's aerospace industry. The new alloy represents a breakthrough for China, and for its aerospace industry, since the production of aluminum-lithium has long been dominated by suppliers in other countries, the company's senior managers said.
Dave, I agree that the world doesn't revolve around the US anymore--that's getting truer all the time. But that said, for those of us in the US, we do have valid concerns about keeping our IP under our control. We also have valid concerns about Chinese manufacturing quality-- not just what they can do but what they do do--and shipping yet more of our jobs overseas, especially high-paid ones. Like sensor pro, I am very wary of so-called global collaboration: companies like Boeing may benefit from it, but citizens--aka workers--in the US so far have not.
@Ann: I'm with you when it comes to companies sending manufacturing jobs to China in order to take advantage of low labor costs. And I agree that the practices of many Chinese companies are deplorable -- although maybe not too different from the practices of many U.S. companies during our own period of rapid industrialization in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But this article is not really about that.
Bombardier seems to see its collaboration with COMAC as a way to generate orders for its CSeries aircraft, which so far it has had a hard time selling. If Bombardier is successful in getting the CSeries into the Chinese domestic air travel market, this would almost certainly create jobs in Quebec and Northern Ireland, where the CSeries is built. It would presumably also create jobs in Pennsylvania and Indiana, where Alcoa makes the aluminum-lithium alloys which are used in the CSeries.
I suspect that Boeing has similar goals in its collaboration with COMAC, although their collaboration seems to be more focused on basic research.
Clearly, companies are in business to make money, not to advance national interests. (Which, in Bombardier's case, would be Canadian interests, not U.S. interests). But, in this case, I think advancing knowledge and technology is in everyone's interest.
Dave, I agree that advancing knowledge and technology is in the interests of all, at least in theory. I think it stops being in everyone's interest when we start looking at who controls what. I also don't think this is just a "shoe's on the other foot" situation in terms of comparing what China's doing now to anything we've done in the past and how unfair or wrong that may have been. The thing is, we're now in a vastly shrunken world in terms of the entanglement of everyone in everyone else's economy and how everyone's economy and technology decisions affect everyone else's. (Interesting that you mentioned Alcoa--they seemed to have had a potential aluminum-lithium deal going with COMAC for a few years and then all mention of it disappears sometime in 2011).
That's a good point, Dave. A collaboration with China doesn't necessarily mean there will be negative blow-back in the U.S. A U.S. company like Boeing could be the beneficiary of R&D from China. I would imagzine there is some significant gain or Beoing would not have entered into the deal.
@Dave Plamer: The main reason to do this type of thing in China is to get preference for our compnaies, like Boeing, in China. If a company like Boeing, with its vast number of engineers and scientists, needs R&D help, then we are in trouble. Perhaps we are made stronger in the long run becuase of our flexibilty as a country, but we often suffer dislocations in the short run.
I am a little leary of materials from China. I talked to one guy who got ball bearings from China (through a distributor) which were not hard enough. They wore out quickly. This lost him at least one customer. In another instance, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has $1.1 Billion worth of trains that they cannot use. They were built by Bombardier who got some of the structural steel from China. It does not meet spec. In fact, it is dangereous. Fortunately it was found in acceptance testing, not operation. I have seen lots of other examples recently. That is why I would be leary of having Chinese materials in an airliner.
@naperlou: I agree that the main motivation for Boeing and Bombardier to do this is to help them sell aircraft in China. What's wrong with that? As I pointed out, this may help create jobs in the U.S. and Canada.
As to R&D, I don't think anyone would argue that U.S. doctors are somehow impeded in looking for a cure for cancer if Chinese doctors are also looking for one. Why should it be any different when it comes to trying to find ways to make air transportation more fuel efficient?
When it comes to Chinese materials, I've definitely seen off-spec materials from China. But I've also seen off-spec materials from the U.S. If you buy the cheapest materials you can find, no matter what country they come from, you shouldn't expect the highest quality. The bottom of the barrel is the bottom of the barrel. But it would be a faulty generalization to say that all Chinese materials are low-quality. It would be more correct to say that you get what you pay for.
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