Shorty Post –China, Social Structure and Building Airplanes

A Moving Sound 4

A Moving Sound — Taiwanese Modern Ensemble with Traditional Instruments

One of the things I’ve always maintained is that because of the inherent issues with managing reliability and complexity, China is likely 15-20 years away from selling a world-class commercial airliner.  I’m still standing by that estimate — but this news might make some wonder.  In Al Jazeera today, this was posted:  First China-made passenger jet leaves production line.

The plane, built by COMAC — The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China — is a state-owned enterprise, and the plane is a competitor to the Airbus A320/Boeing 737 lines.  Pre-orders total over 500, but only 10 of these are outside China.  No FAA certification of the aircraft has occurred, so it’s not showing up in the U.S. any time soon.

It’s an interesting coincidence, because I’ve always maintained that the Chinese culture, which is a modified, empathetic form of narcissistic authoritarianism, built on powerful in-group/out-group dynamics (Chinese culture maintains the Han as the master race, and everyone else is not-so-much) would be rocked by the One-Child Policy, which also has recently been modified to a Two-Child Policy.  I always figured that the One-Child Policy would force the products of that policy to then form independent relationships, and drive greater empathetic development, which would then make more complex products possible.  Yet it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen in China — because even though the Chinese government is very much about control, the Internet is the great control leveler.  Even when it’s throttled around, and folks can’t use Facebook.  How much of any of this is China, and how much of it is the new, ascendant global culture?

The plane, the C919, has been delayed from first flight, for reasons no one knows.  That’s not in and of itself surprising — new commercial aircraft are often delayed for a variety of reasons.  What will be interesting to watch is how long the delays last, and where they show up.  China already smartly partnered with GE and France’s Safran for the engines — definitely the hardest part of the game.  That was smart.

But for the remaining parts, it will be interesting for us aerospace watchers to understand what part of the plane game causes the greatest delays — whether it’s airframe or manufacturing.  That’s going to tell us loads about where synergy really matters — in design, or making the thing.  Or perhaps communication and exchange between the two parts.  I’m sure my friends at Boeing are also watching — because it’s going to tell us where we need to double down on understanding and managing complexity.

In the end, the thing to remember is this — it’s complexity management and ease of duplex information flow that creates commercial aircraft.  China’s running an enormous controlled experiment that behooves us all to watch with a true, critical eye.  Running around screaming the sky is falling, or alternately, dismissing their attempts won’t get us very far.  I know I’ll be watching from the sidelines with bated breath!

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