LOOKING EAST CAN CHINA'S NEW AIRCRAFT CHANGE THE GAME?

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The economic downturn facing most African countries in no way denies or even beclouds the fact the Africa needs more efficient aircraft to drive the continent's socio-economic integration and development. With the second largest population and landmass among the world's continents, Africa presents a rising population of 1.3 billion inhabitants.

In its 2015-2030 forecast, Boeing projects that Africa will take deliveries of 1,170 new aircraft. Airbus thinks Africa will take 991 new aircraft deliveries between 2016 and 2035. All these point to the growing demand for more efficient aircraft in Africa.

African airlines are, however, currently challenged by limited access to funding, which over the years has limited the expansion or even prevented the start-up of many African carriers. While the current economic challenge facing African key markets like Nigeria and South Africa is expected to soon blow over, the critical need for efficient African fleets remains ever glaring.

Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier have keyed into the emerging scheduled commercial aviation market in Africa with new and old customers taking orders and deliveries of these aircraft brands directly or indirectly.

However, given Africa's peculiar economic situation, the continent is no doubt in need of enhanced support from overseas partners, be they aircraft manufacturers or lessors or funding institutions. This opens a window of sort for China to strengthen its foothold in Africa. On offer are China's helicopters, general aviation aircraft and the regional aircraft, some of which have already been in use among some African operators, though not in leading markets or among key operators in South, West and North Africa.

China offers funding, aircraft support services and regional aircraft; and reaches further to fund aviation and other infrastructure as a whole package for Africa.

Perhaps, the main challenge Chinese aircraft may face in Africa could be their newness in the industry as against the other 'tested and trusted' brands. But this is not really a barrier, as what could decide who wins the African market depends on various factors, especially safety, rather than perception of 'newness and tested brand.'

Importantly, the certification of any aircraft brand by key international aviation industry regulators qualifies such aircraft for use in any market; and this counts for Chinese aircraft and could tilt the scale in their favour in the emerging African market.

Again, the readiness of China to provide the needs of the typical African operator would also be a deciding factor as undecided operators may need the right nudge to embrace the 'new' Chinese aircraft technology. Other aircraft manufacturers are not unaware of the looming Chinese contenders. But between the new-comer and the preferred old favourites, who wins the African market will have first provided tangible benefits to the African industry, and committed to continue to give in to the development of Africa's aviation industry. 'For the win-win' becomes the order of the day.

Time is ticking; and time will tell.

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