Asian plane makers struggle to take-off in crowded market

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Asian plane makers have thrown huge sums at building jets but flagship projects have suffered repeated setbacks, and they face a tough time breaking into a market dominated by established players.

The Asia-Pacific region is the world’s biggest aviation market for commercial aircraft and Japanese and Chinese firms have embarked on programmes to build their own planes.

Asia’s two biggest economies are home to myriad companies making hi-tech goods, from cars to smartphones, which in many cases have succeeded in rivalling Western firms.

But when it comes to building planes – which requires mammoth investment, years of painstaking development, and rigorous safety standards – progress has been slow.

The companies at the forefront of the Asian drive, Japan’s Mitsubishi and Chinese state-owned manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), have both seen their flagship projects delayed for years. China “could be successful in 10-15 years but at this time, the odds are not really in their favour”, founder of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics Shukor Yusof told AFP.

“The international market is just too saturated with aircraft from the established manufacturers so there’s very little space for new players.”

Asia’s biggest air show in Singapore this week was – as ever – dominated by European plane maker Airbus, United States (US) manufacturer Boeing and a handful of smaller, mostly Western manufacturers.

Chinese manufacturers had a good reason for not making much of an impression – they were forced to pull out because of a ban on travellers from China due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed around 1,400 people and infected tens of thousands.

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation was showing off a mock-up of the interior of its SpaceJet, the first version of which was originally due for commercial rollout in 2013.

Exhibitors standing next to the Spacejet model display at the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation booth during the Singapore Airshow. PHOTO: AFP