Saudi Arabia talks with China as it seeks to disrupt Boeing-Airbus

Saudi officials are in talks with Chinese aircraft maker Comac as the latter seeks to expand, Reuters reported.

The Comac C919 is a narrow-body aircraft that aims to compete with Airbus’ A320neo and Boeing’s 737 Max. It is China’s first jet, but so far orders have come only from China and Southeast Asia.

Today, it appears that China is eyeing Saudi Arabia as the ideal place to increase its market share and begin to compete with the two major Western aircraft manufacturers.

According to Reuters, Comac Chairman Dongfeng He visited Saudi Arabia for the first time this week. A Saudi delegation visited Comac’s Shanghai facilities in February.

“Comac plans to improve global connectivity and diversity by contributing to the development of air transport in Saudi Arabia,” he said at an aviation conference in Riyadh on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

This comes after Saudi national carrier Saudia announced the largest aircraft order in the kingdom’s history on Monday. 105 Airbus aircraft, a mix of A320neo and A321neo models, will be divided between the national airline and its subsidiary flyadeal.

The airline is owned by the Saudi government and the president of Saudia is also the minister of transport. As part of its Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy, aviation has been at the center of promoting tourism in the kingdom.

The deal with Saudia appeared as a snub for Boeing, given that the US aircraft maker had already won a large order from Riyadh Air – another state-owned airline scheduled to launch in 2025.

Shortly before last November’s Dubai Airshow, Bloomberg reported that Boeing was close to winning another order from Riyadh Air for its narrow-body aircraft. However, this never came to fruition. CEO Tony Douglas blamed negative media coverage on delivery delays and technical problems.

With Boeing in crisis since Alaska Airlines blew up in January, carriers may be willing to look elsewhere. Additionally, the Airbus commercial jet order book reached 8,626 at the end of March, leaving little room for more customers.

Earlier this month, Brazilian planemaker Embraer denied Wall Street Journal reports that it was working on a new narrow-body jet, profiting from Boeing’s woes.


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