Boeing opens first 737 finishing plant in China as competition heats up
Boeing Co opened its first 737 completion plant in China over the weekend, a strategic investment aimed at building a sales lead over arch-rival Airbus in one of the world’s top travel markets.
The world’s largest plane maker also delivered the first of its top-selling 737s completed at the facility in Zhoushan, about 290 kilometers southeast of Shanghai, to state carrier Air China during a ceremony on Saturday with top executives from both companies.
The executives, alongside representatives from China’s state planner and aviation regulator, unveiled the plane at an event attended by hundreds of people.
The 100-acre completion site, where workers install interiors to 737s built in Seattle for sale in the Chinese market, is part of the US aerospace company’s plan to strengthen ties to what will soon be the world’s largest aviation market.
Boeing and Airbus have been expanding their footprint in China as they vie for orders in the fast-growing market.
Boeing invested US$33 million last year to take a majority stake in a joint venture with state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China to build the completion center, which installs interiors and paint liveries.
Chicago-based Boeing calls itself the top US exporter and delivered more than one out of every four jetliners it made last year to customers in China, where it forecasts demand for 7,700 new airplanes over the next 20 years valued at US$1.2 trillion.
Boeing China’s president, John Bruns, called the new center in Zhoushan “a big deal.” It will produce 100 jets a year and employ 300 people at full capacity.
“It really demonstrates our commitment to this market,” Bruns told reporters on Saturday ahead of the center’s opening ceremony.
That is especially so, given the “challenging time we’re going through,” he said, referring to US-China relations.
“We have to keep our eye on the long game in China. Long term, I’m optimistic we will work our way through this,” he said.”
Bruns said he remained optimistic about the outcome of trade talks between the United States and China and described aviation as a “bright spot” amid tensions between the two countries.
Boeing’s new Zhoushan facility is meant to show the company deserves its market-leading position in China.
Bruns said Boeing contributes around US$1 billion a year to the Chinese economy by sourcing jetliner parts here and through training programs.
Boeing aims eventually to hit a delivery target of 100 planes a year at Zhoushan, although Bruns did not say how quickly it would reach that level and said Boeing had no plans to expand work to other aircraft types.
Boeing also hopes the plant will relieve pressure at the Seattle-area facility where it plans to boost production next year of its best-selling 737.