Niyi Aderibigbe

China’s influence in Africa to get Comac rare overseas sale in Ghana

As Boeing’s woes continue following the Ethiopian Airlines B-737-MAX 8 crash earlier in March, China, one of the countries to first ground the MAX 8 for safety reasons is set to benefit as it seeks to expand its aerospace industry and break the duopoly of Boeing Co. and Airbus SE. in the commercial plane space.

continue following the Ethiopian Airlines B-737-MAX 8 crash earlier in March, China, one of the countries to first ground the MAX 8 for safety reasons is set to benefit as it seeks to expand its aerospace industry and break the duopoly of Boeing Co. and Airbus SE. in the commercial plane space.

The country, whose state-owned planemaker Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd. (Comac) has been working on inroads to Africa is set to secure an order of two of its short-medium range turbofan regional aircraft ARJ21 by Ghana’s Africa World Airlines (AWA), according to the carrier’s Chief Executive Officer John Quan who spoke to Bloomberg News in an interview.

With AWA partly owned by China’s HNA Group, the order looks part of China’s Belt & Road Initiative, through which the Asian powerhouse has been helping countries across Africa build much-needed infrastructure. Usually, these projects are executed using Chinese equipment and sometimes run upon completion by Chinese nationals having been funded by Chinese loans. While Western allies warn Africa not to get trapped by Chinese debts and Western media call it neo-colonialism, for many African governments, using cheap Chinese loans and low-cost equipment to foster growth is not a bad idea.

Back in 2017, the Chinese Government announced it would start training up to 500 African civil aviation personnel in China every year as part of efforts to stimulate growth in Africa’s fast-growing air transport industry. The programme marks the implementation phase of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Johannesburg action plan for 2016-2018, an aviation development blueprint adopted in December 2010. Apart from growing the continent’s aviation industry, the training programme is expected to help China consolidate both military and commercial aircraft sales into Africa.

“Our Chinese shareholders are very keen to introduce the aircraft to boost China-Africa trade relations,” Quan told Bloomberg, adding that Comac executives will be in Ghana later in March and will likely sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with AWA.

HNA and Comac had last year signed an MoU to deliver ARJ21 jets into African countries based on its global airline network and partnerships with African airliners such as the Ghana-based AWA and South Africa’s Comair.

According to the deal, HNA and Comac will actively assist African countries in building regional airline networks, as well as carry out cooperation in areas including aircraft maintenance, aviation materials supply and personnel training.

The two companies also plan to establish a jet leasing company in Africa to support sales of Chinese sales.

Speaking in 2018, He Dongfeng, Comac Chairman, said the company’s partnership with HNA will help Chinese commercial aircraft and aviation transportation industry expand into the global market, especially Africa, which he said “has huge market potential”.

According to a June 2018 agreement, HNA agreed to buy 100 ARJ21 jets and 200 C919 passenger aircraft from Comac. The C919 is Comac’s answer to Boeing’s 737 MAX and Airbus’s A320neo. It made its maiden flight in 2017 and is expected to enter service anytime from 2020.

AViation is expected to continue to expand over the next two decades, with Europe and North America expected to remain central to global aviation markets. It is unlikely that Comac will try to compete with Boeing and Airbus in these markets, but the company is expected to focus on its huge local market and capture as much piece of the African aviation market as possible using the same strategy that has helped China find its way to the heart of Africa.