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What would it take to have a new large civil aircraft manufacturer besides Boeing and Airbus, that is not state sponsored (C919, MC-21)

In other words, what are the chances a new company would break into the market? What would it take?

If you look at the US past aircrafts, there is an abundance of companies producing large civil aircraft: Boeing, Convair, Douglas, Lockheed, Martin. Then there were the French, the British and the Russian manufacturers. Now there is Boeing and Airbus. Embraer and Bombardier are producing rather small planes for today's standards, even if they are impressive compared to historic planes.

The regional jet market is a lot more competitive, with the CRJs and ERJs under pressure from MRJ, SJ-100 and ARJ. Could one of those companies successfully grow into Boeing and Airbus market?

What are the chances a start-up, with no state money, will come to market with a new 100+ seats plane in the next 20-30 years? Could a SpaceX type of company be successful in the airplane manufacturing industry?

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    $\begingroup$ Question: How do you make a small fortune in the airline business? Answer: You start with a large fortune. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Aug 25, 2015 at 5:07
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    $\begingroup$ You are comparing aircraft manufacturers and SpaceX. Without NASA money there wouldn't be any SpaceX. Thus, the whole question is based on a false premise. The aerospace industry is, in general, subsidized by governments. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2015 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ The one company that I've always expected to jump into this business is GE. I wonder why they don't. They have the deep pockets & the aviation connections from their engines division. Besides they are already into heavy industries that would give them the talent & facilities for constructing 100+ PAX aircraft. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2015 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ @curious_cat why would they throw away a few billion at designing and marketing an aircraft that would compete with other aircraft they already make a few billion on supplying the engines? $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Aug 25, 2015 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @jwenting Which aircraft does GE make that a 100+ seat model would compete with? To me it sounded forward integration. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2015 at 12:14

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What are the chances a start-up, with no state money, will come to market with a new 100+ seats plane in the next 20-30 years?

If you count Bombardier, the chances are roughly 100%. The Bombardier C-Series, which will seat 140 (160 max,) is scheduled to enter service within this year (2015.) However, Bombardier is hardly a 'start-up' in the normal sense.

Bombardier C-Series
Bombardier C-Series Mock-Up (Source: Wikipedia)

For a real start-up (e.g. a SpaceX-style company,) the chances will be much more slim. It takes billions of dollars worth of investments to design a modern commercial airliner before you will ever see the first dime of revenue. Start-ups generally won't have access to that kind of money until they have had time to mature and developed a steady revenue stream from other successful products (which is how Bombardier is doing it.)

Could a SpaceX type of company be successful in the airplane manufacturing industry?

That depends greatly on the type of airplanes in question. Undoubtedly, this is possible in the light general aviation market. Several such companies have come and gone over the years. One interesting start-up that is planning to enter production soon is Terrafugia, a start-up from MIT, which is building aircraft that fold up into street-legal cars that can just drive away from the airport and park in your garage. However, the larger airliner market is a completely different ballgame, involving development costs that are orders of magnitude higher. Start-ups have a difficult time getting started in markets with such huge barriers to entry.

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  • $\begingroup$ except that Bombardier is hardly a startup AND is heavily state backed (or at least used to be, not sure about now that they're well established and have been a successful business for decades). $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Aug 25, 2015 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ Reading this now, a new answer becomes obvious: Do as SpaceX, hire a bunch of good engineers highly frustrated by their beancounter management, and you can start a very successful airliner company even (different from SpaceX) without state aid. But you still need 5 years and 5-8 billion USD until the first delivery. $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2022 at 7:14
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This question is much more about economics than about aviation. What would it take to have a new large civil aircraft manufacturer? It is a question of economics, and the analysis is essentially indifferent to the industry, per se.

No surprise that the regional market is more competitive, in the sense that there are more aircraft manufacturers. Generally, as aircraft increase in size they become more difficult to produce while the market for them grows smaller.

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What are the chances a start-up, with no state money, will come to market with a new 100+ seats plane in the next 20-30 years?

The Bombardier C-Series/Airbus A220 history suggests that it will not happen profitably any time soon. Problems include:

  • Trade wars. The simple fact that Boeing can create the impression that there will be tariffs is a big threat.
  • Price wars. Airbus lowered their prices to reduce the value of the C-series program, allowing Airbus to get a controlling stake for free.
  • More money can be had from selling your manufacturing program than from selling aircraft. Before Airbus was involved, Bombardier was losing money and receiving bailouts. Airbus paid Bombardier for an extra 25% of the program.

All this happened when Bombardier was an established company with state support. A startup would fare worse.

In short, only someone willing to lose a vast sum of money could do it.

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    $\begingroup$ “only someone willing to lose a vast sum of money could do it” is, to a large extent, how SpaceX came to be, as a high risk investment by someone who already had a different company producing fairly reliable income. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Jan 22, 2022 at 21:51

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