China Hopes To Stand Out At Paris Air Show

China is making its presence known at this year's Paris Air Show. It is the premier event for those who make and buy aircraft. China is there as one of the world's largest purchasers of jetliners, and it is also trying to make its mark as a plane manufacturer.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Let's burn a little oil in the air next. The Paris Air Show, big trade show, and China has been causing a stir there. It's the first time a Chinese aircraft manufacturer has been represented at the Paris Air Show. The industry has long been dominated, of course, by North American and European companies.

Eleanor Beardsley sent this report.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: This week, the sounds of Chinese are part of the language mix on the tarmac at the Paris Air Show. And while the airplane orders game is still dominated by American and European giants Boeing and Airbus, all eyes are on COMAC, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China. COMAC has an exhibit space where a mock-up of the cabin of its C-919, medium-range passenger jet is on display.

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BEARDSLEY: Journalists clamor to get an interview with Guo Bozhi, the president of COMAC.

What does it mean for you to be at the Paris Air Show?

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GUO BOZHI: We want to let everyone know that Chinese design a new, modern aircraft.

BEARDSLEY: Guo Bozhi says the plane will be ready for delivery in 2016, and it will be cutting edge, comfortable and fuel-efficient. Many people here fear China's economic muscle, but also its penchant for copying technology. That partly explains a rumor going around the air show. Some say an Airbus plane disappeared into thin air a few years ago, and it just so happens that China's new C-919 model has almost exactly the same interior cabin dimensions as that aircraft.

Robert Wall, the international editor of Aviation Week laughs at the rumor, but he says the Chinese should be taken seriously, even if some wonder how efficient and safe their planes will be.

ROBERT WALL: In all fairness, the Chinese on aviation safety take things quite seriously. I think they realize they have no margin for error. If they get it wrong everyone will say, oh, there you go. We all knew this was going to be a, you know, a low-cost, crap product. So I don't expect them to cut corners. And again, they're working with Western suppliers who will make sure their reputation doesn't get tarnished by the Chinese.

BEARDSLEY: Irish carrier Ryanair signed a memorandum of understanding with COMAC this week in Paris. And many see the Chinese presence as an opportunity.

Olivier Hardy works for French company Dassault Systemes, which provides software to plane-makers.

OLIVIER HARDY: The Chinese market will require at least about 2,000 airplanes in the next 10 to 15 years. So we know that there will be a huge demand for that market. And we, you know, Europeans or Americans want a piece of that as well.

BEARDSLEY: Hardy says there's plenty of business to be done, because the Chinese have a big appetite for advanced technology.

HARRY KISKADDEN: Come in 10 minutes? It's okay?

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

BEARDSLEY: American Harry Kiskadden is trying to set up a meeting with COMAC executives. Kiskadden works for Alcoa, which makes aluminum components for planes.

KISKADDEN: We're delighted they're here. They're an up-and-coming player in the aerospace industry. I think everybody that does business in the aerospace industry should be excited to have them here.

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BEARDSLEY: Lunch is in full swing at the air show trailer of a satellite- launching company. The lucrative commercial satellite-launching market is dominated by just two players, and again, they're European and American. The Chinese have been kept on the sidelines by a 1998 U.S. law that prohibits any satellite with American components from being launched by a Chinese rocket. No one here wants to talk about it, but should the law be rescinded, says aerospace consultant Alain Dupas, the competition will be rough.

ALAIN DUPAS: The Chinese have excellent rockets. They have a new generation of rockets coming, of very high quality and performance. And if they come back on the market, they will be cheaper.

BEARDSLEY: China's arrival in the top league of air and space travel is a threat or an opportunity, depending on who you talk to. But everyone agrees that once they're up and running, they will be a major force in the industry.

NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley, in Paris.

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