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Emirates chief backs Chinese plane maker Comac

'Knowing the Chinese, they’re going to be fairly versatile and fairly quick in upgrading their standards,' says Emirates boss Sir Tim Clark Reuters/Brian Snyder
'Knowing the Chinese, they’re going to be fairly versatile and fairly quick in upgrading their standards,' says Emirates boss Sir Tim Clark
  • Sir Tim Clark points to ‘golden opportunity’
  • May challenge Airbus-Boeing duopoly
  • ‘Incredible scope’ to grow, says Willie Walsh

The president of Emirates, Sir Tim Clark, has given his backing to Chinese aircraft manufacturer Comac as problems persist at the US plane maker Boeing.

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, based in Shanghai, has been courting attention across the Gulf in recent months as Boeing grapples with delivery delays, a spate of accidents and whistleblower revelations.

“As far as Comac is concerned, now is the time,” Clark told reporters at the World Air Transport Summit in Dubai on Monday.

The Chinese company has a “golden opportunity” to take advantage of the issues facing the industry around supply chain, original equipment manufacturers and legacy manufacturers, Clark said.

Emirates is seeking compensation from Boeing for delays in the delivery of dozens of 777X wide-body aircraft.

Comac signed a memorandum of understanding last month with Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Civil Aviation to explore aircraft assembly.

The Chinese company’s chairman, Dongfeng He, also pitched Comac’s small and medium-body planes as a potential part of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious aviation plans.

Comac’s mid-size regional jet has been flying in Southeast Asia since 2016 but its C919, a narrow-body jet, only began passenger services in China in 2023. 

The director general of the International Air Transport Association, Willie Walsh, said: “Orders for the aircraft are very significant, but primarily targeted at the Chinese domestic market.

“When you look at the size of that market, I think there’s incredible scope for Comac to grow.”

Dongfeng He has previously intimated that Comac could supply narrow-body aircraft to build routes over a 2,000km radius spanning the Arabian peninsula, the Middle East, Turkey, North Africa and beyond.

Comac, which is owned by the Chinese state, still faces international certification hurdles before it can challenge the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus. 

Walsh admitted such a scenario is “going to take a considerable amount of time”.

But Emirates’ Clark is confident Comac can do it. “Knowing the Chinese, they’re going to be fairly versatile and fairly quick in upgrading their standards of build and safety and propulsion and all the avionics platforms that are currently provided in some respect by western technology.

“They’ll probably get there.”

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