Friday, January 14, 2011

Boeing's reach is woven into China's aviation industry

Employees work on the wings of a Boeing 737 in Kansas. Li Xing / China Daily

David Langridge believes his job is taking him "around the world" without getting on board an airplane.

A driver with Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Langridge takes guests of the world's largest commercial aircraft manufacturer between their hotels and Boeing's sites in the suburban cities of Everett or Renton.

There, the guests - pilots, mechanics, engineers and airline managers - work with Boeing staff members to get their new aircraft inspected, receive training, improve their skills in aircraft maintenance or develop expertise in airport management.

Many of his guests from around the world are Chinese.

"I feel like going around the world (with them)," Langridge said.

China is a frequent destination for Boeing's top commercial executives.

James F. Albaugh, executive vice-president of the Boeing Company, has visited China three times since he became president &CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes in September 2009.

"I'd like to think we (Boeing and China) are partners," Albaugh said in a recent exclusive interview with China Daily. "We worked with China to develop its aviation industry, aviation infrastructure, and we continue to depend on them as they, I hope, depend on us."

There is the confidence in the growth of China's market for Boeing's airplanes, despite competition from Airbus in Europe and China's efforts to expand its high-speed railways and build its own regional and large aircraft.

Albaugh was told during his first visit that China needed to buy 200 airplanes a year. But he disagreed. "In my view, there is going to be a lot more than that, close to 300," he said.

Having gone through the economic cycles and business challenges over nearly six decades, Randy Tinseth, vice-president of marketing of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said air travel still managed to grow about 5 percent a year due not only to the strong link between air travel and the economy but also to people's curiosity and their need to travel.

Since he visited China for the first time in the early 1990s, Tinseth has made more than 30 trips, seeing the dramatic changes in Shanghai skyline and experiencing "more complicated" driving on the road in Beijing.

Today, Boeing has 31 customers in China flying about 870 Boeing airplanes. Moreover, Tinseth reckoned that about 190 million Chinese fly in Boeing airplanes.

Two months ago, he announced in Beijing that his company forecasted that China would need 4,330 new commercial airplanes valued at $480 billion over the next 20 years.

In short, 20 years from now, more than 40 percent of all travel will begin and end within the Asia-Pacific market, Tinseth said, and China is about 40 percent of that demand. "This is our idea of the important role that Asia as well as China will play," he said.

"We cannot underestimate the power of tourism, both domestic and outside China. I know in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), tourism will be raised in terms of importance," he said.

Tinseth said he and his team are aware of China's ambitious plan to develop a high-speed rail system. Boeing sees it as both competition and complementing.

His research team examined the high-speed rail development plan. They concluded that high-speed rail would attract a lot more passenger flow between two cities within 800 kilometers.

Travelers are likely to debate whether to ride or to fly when cities are 800 to 1,200 km apart.

But they believe that most passengers would favor air travel if the distance goes beyond 1,200 km, as personal wealth grows and time becomes more important, Tinseth said.

"There are challenges in all types of transportation," he said, noting that some high-speed rail terminals are located outside downtown areas. "Airlines have to work together with railroads."

But Boeing's footprints in China go far beyond selling airplanes.

"There is not a plane we built that doesn't have parts from China in it," Albaugh said.

China Daily

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