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Riyadh Air not buying from China’s Comac ‘for now’

Riyadh Air Comac C919 Comac
A Comac C919 narrow-bodied airliner: not on our shopping list, Riyadh Air says
  • Narrowbody order either Boeing or Airbus
  • ‘Looking forward to seeing Comac’s success’
  • Chinese plane maker to explore Saudi production

Riyadh Air, Saudi Arabia’s new national carrier, will not consider China’s Comac for its narrowbody order to be announced later this year.

However, the airline said it saw a future in Saudi Arabia for Comac, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, as the Chinese alternative to Boeing and Airbus. 

“The narrowbody order is in its final stages and the negotiations are between Airbus and Boeing,” a spokesperson told AGBI in response to a query about whether the state-owned Comac was in the running. 

“Comac are up and coming in the market and we’re looking forward to seeing their success in the region and in Saudi,” the spokesperson said. 

Riyadh Air, owned by the Public Investment Fund, has ordered 72 widebody Boeing Dreamliner 787s for delivery before flights are due to start in mid-2025. It said this month it had also ordered a fleet of narrowbody jets. 

The airline’s chief commercial officer, Vincent Coste, asked if the narrowbody orders would be from Boeing, told AGBI this month: “We’ve not made any announcement.” 

Airlines around the world have expressed concerns about Boeing’s recent delays in delivery, concerns heightened by a spate of accidents and whistleblower revelations. 

Comac and the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer were in Riyadh last week at an aviation forum, looking for sales opportunities in a massive expansion of the sector in Saudi Arabia, as it privatises airports, opens new routes to low-cost airlines and seeks to bring in more pilgrims

Dongfeng He, chairman of Comac, had talks with officials about manufacturing aircraft in Saudi Arabia. He also pitched Comac’s small and medium-body planes as a potential part of Saudi Arabia’s aviation plans. 

Comac signed a memorandum of understanding on 26 May with the General Authority for Civil Aviation to explore aircraft assembly, the official Saudi Press Agency said on Sunday

Saudi Arabia’s other national carrier, Saudia, which owns the Jeddah-based low-cost carrier Flyadeal, may be the local party considering buying from Comac. The Chinese company, which was founded in 2008, is also developing a third long-haul plane. 

A problem for Comac is that US and Saudi officials are discussing a security pact that would enable Riyadh to buy arms and obtain a US defence guarantee in return for restricting trade with China.

In 2021 the US named Comac as a company “owned or controlled” by the People’s Liberation Army, and prohibited any American company or individual from investing in it.

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