An overseas returnee behind China’s aerospace ambition
In 1979, he came to Shanghai for the first time with his father and took a picture with his family on the Bund, with the now familiar Lujiazui skyline completely absent. In 2010, he and his own family moved from the United States to Shanghai in order to to dedicate himself to China’s domestic aircraft equipment manufacturing. Early this year, he transferred from Honeywell Technology Service (HTS) China and became the first Chinese VP for Honeywell Aerospace AP OEMs, continuing his commitment to China’s aerospace ambitions.
He is Jun Xu. A Tsinghua and Cornell University graduate, he once participated in the development of China’s homemade ARJ21 jet and led a team of 500 people doing technical R&D for the C919, China’s first domestically-built passenger jetliner. Claiming himself to be simply one of China’s aviation workers, Dr. Xu remains modest and stays true to his original aspiration.
(Jun Xu has an interview with Eastday.com.)
A new era for China’s aviation industry
China’s civil aviation industry started in the 1950s and over the past 60 years, it has undergone many hardships. The R&D of domestic large aircraft began in 1971, but it was not until 2002 that China’s domestic civil aviation industry really took off. With the success of C919’s maiden flight on May 5, 2017, China’s civil aviation entered a new highly advanced development stage.
Dr. Xu was still emotional when he recounted the moment of C919’s first flight. With tears in his eyes, he said the cloudy weather at Pudong International Airport that day reminded him of the twists and turns China’s civil aviation, from Shanghai Y-10 to AE-100, had encountered. And for Chinese aviation workers, there were many bitter untold stories. So, after going through so many setbacks, to witness C919 breaking through the clouds that day was a momentous achievement. He told the reporter, “I think that day heralded a new era.”
(C919 took its maiden flight on May 5, 2017.)
(Dr. Xu and his wife are invited to watch the first flight of C919.)
The night before the flight, Dr. Xu arrived at the airport at around 11:00 p.m., only to find that C919’s general assembly shop was still illuminated with lights. Staff from Honeywell and COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd.) were still testing the flight control system. They did not leave until 4:00 a.m. And they were well accustomed to such a daily schedule.
Regarding some critics’ doubts about the extent of China’s self-development of C919, Dr. Xu gave his reply, “There are two points I want to make. First, the whole project was led by COMAC, which is very important. Second, COMAC has created an amazing platform, because from 2008 to 2018, while leading the enormous project of C919, which was highly resource-intensive, COMAC had to build its company and its team, an extraordinary accomplishment for a company in just ten years. It created two platforms: ARJ21 and C919. And CR929 will be ready soon. I think what it has done is unparalleled.”
Envisioning the future of C919, Dr. Xu believes each year is critical to the jetliner. On June 22, C919 AC101 and 102 completed their first flights successfully. AC103 will be tested within this year and AC104, 105 and 106 will be tested next year. So he thinks 2019 might be a year of tough tests but C919 will certainly do better than ARJ21. Whether it will become a top player in the world’s aviation industry along with Airbus and Boeing, he doesn’t know. But he is sure that C919 will be strongly competitive in the market.
Dreams and perseverance
Dreams and perseverance were mentioned most frequently by Dr. Xu during the interview. “Perseverance is highly needed as it takes 10 years or so for a plane to come out,” he said. After working with COMAC for many years, he was impressed by the young team and their perseverance and passion. He told us a story about a young man who has worked for the team for over seven years. At first, the young graduate came to do aviation because his father and mother work in the automobile industry, so he studied aviation. But after he came to COMAC, he really personally fell in love with aviation, even though his income is not high, his home is far from work, and the working conditions are really tough. Dr. Xu believes the most promising part for the future of COMAC is its young people, which is fundamental for COMAC to secure a position among the world’s aviation enterprises.
(Jun Xu at work)
Following C919’s debut flight, China’s homemade large aircraft program has got even more ambition. For instance, large aircraft projects have become the focus of Shanghai’s high-end manufacturing industry. In May 2018, the Shanghai Economic and Information Technology Commission issued the “Three-year Action Plan for Shanghai Aviation Manufacturing Industry Chain Development (2018-2020),” striving to achieve a total output value of RMB 50 billion by 2020. That will lay a solid foundation for achieving the goal of a total output value of RMB 300 billion by 2035 and building an aviation manufacturing industry cluster with global influence in Shanghai.
How can China become a world-class manufacturer of aircraft components and systems? In Dr. Xu’s eyes, the key is to have dreams and perseverance. He said, “If the country has dreams and perseverance, the companies have dreams and perseverance, and the aviation workers have dreams and perseverance, China’s aviation industry, such as COMAC, AVIC or AECC, will enjoy a good position in the world, whether as a major manufacture or equipment supplier.”
For Dr. Xu, China’s reform and opening up, whether it is from the perspective of the country or from a personal point of view, is a process of making dreams take off. Back in the 1970s, the Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory was underdeveloped. But today, looking over the Middle Ring Road, people will see the impressive building of the Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute. That symbolizes a great leap: “Thanks to the policy of reform and opening up, Shanghai has become a major innovation center of aviation manufacturing.” As Dr. Xu put it, being realistically able to return to China to help develop the country’s aviation industry by drawing upon his experience of working in a world-class enterprise, has been long-awaited. C919 has not only provided him with a platform for career development, but also fulfilled his dream of coming back to his motherland. He is proud of being an aviation worker in China.
(Wishes for the ongoing process of reform and opening up from Jun Xu: Stay true to the original aspiration, be confident and keep innovating for the wellbeing of the people and the prosperity of the country.)