Chinese planemaker COMAC eyes Saudi Arabian market
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Chinese planemaker COMAC eyes Saudi Arabian market

Chinese planemaker COMAC eyes Saudi Arabian market

COMAC’s planes fly almost exclusively within China and with one Indonesian airline, but the planemaker is looking to expand elsewhere


Chinese planemaker COMAC is eyeing Saudi Arabia as a launch pad for its international ambitions, as the state-owned company steps up efforts to sell overseas and break into a passenger jet market dominated by Western manufacturers.

Chairman Dongfeng He visited Saudi Arabia for the first time this week, having welcomed a Saudi delegation to the company’s Shanghai facilities in February.

“COMAC envisions enhancing global connectivity and diversity by contributing to Saudi Arabia‘s aviation transportation development,” He told an aviation conference in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Aviation industry sources, however, caution that COMAC is a long way from making inroads internationally, especially without benchmark certifications from the United States or European Union, or more efficient planes.

COMAC’s planes fly almost exclusively within China and with one Indonesian airline, and the company, founded in 2008, is looking for international customers.

It recently showcased its planes around Southeast Asia, and is pursuing certification with Europe’s aviation regulator for its C919 narrow-body jet.

During He’s visit, Saudia Group, owner of Saudia airline and budget carrier flyadeal, said it invited COMAC to set up an assembly line in Jeddah, confirming to Reuters a report in The National newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates.

Saudia is also talking to COMAC to better understand the C919 jet, but no decisions have been made, the report said.

Saudi Arabia is throwing billions of dollars at its Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy away from fossil fuels and develop a vibrant private sector.

The plan includes a massive expansion in aviation, with new airlines, jet orders and plans for a huge international airport as it takes on its regional rival and current Gulf travel hub, the UAE.

COMAC’s He said its two operational planes, the C919 and ARJ21 regional jet, could serve Saudi‘s growing domestic and regional flight market.

“COMAC plans to enhance connectivity within a 2,000-km radius, spanning the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, Turkey, North Africa and beyond,” He said. This distance is equivalent to 1,200 miles.

COMAC also has ambitions to launch a long-haul wide-body plane, the C929, which He said could serve Saudi Arabia‘s plans for an international hub. But the programme has suffered delays and the craft has not yet taken to the sky.

The Saudi finance minister was in China this week and a delegation including the kingdom’s investment minister will also travel this week.

Seeking to take on the duopoly of Western planemakers Boeing BA.N and Airbus AIR.PA, COMAC’s ARJ21 regional jet entered service in 2016 and flies in China and with Indonesian carrier TransNusa. The C919 single-aisle began flying passengers in May 2023 and is so far only certified within China.


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