Boeing Co said on Tuesday China will remain its top market outside the United States for the next 20 years, as it vies with arch rival Airbus to supply the country's booming airline industry.
The aircraft maker also said it expects one in 10 of the planes it makes to go to mainland China over the same period.
Boeing, which won 112 firm orders in China in 2006, is worried about increasing congestion in the mainland, but sees rapid growth in Chinese aviation for at least the next two decades, John Bruns, vice president for China operations in the firm's commercial airplanes group, told the Reuters China Century Summit.
The growth rate may fluctuate, but think of it this way-- only 10 percent of the people that travel in China between cities travel by air, Bruns said.
The potential is just massive.
The firm, however, won 120 firm orders in 2005.
Bruns said the drop in 2006 was normal and negligible, and was coy about whether Boeing would surpass its 2006 performance in 2007. It's hard to say if we'll beat it, he said.
China is a pivotal battleground between Airbus and Boeing, both of which are battling to sell jetliners to the country's three top carriers: China Southern Air, Air China and China Eastern.
Boeing expects China will need 2,900 commercial airplanes over the next 20 years, 64 percent of which would be single-aisle jets.
And the firm will control at least a 60 percent share of the Chinese market going forward, Bruns said without giving a definite time frame.
But worries linger that Chinese airliners could rescind orders after a Boeing plane operated by Taiwan's China Airlines caught fire and exploded after landing in Japan last month.
Everybody is always interested in safety, Bruns said, but declined further comment on how the firm's customers had responded to the incident.
Boeing currently has US$2.5 billion worth of active contracts with parts suppliers in China. Rudders in the 787, for example, are exclusively sourced in China.
But Bruns scoffed at quality control scandals that have recently plagued many other products -- from toothpaste to toys -- made in China. -- made in China.
It's a very different industry, Bruns said.
Our entire quality system and supply chain has to meet FAA requirements. The parts that are made at Chinese factories have to meet not only Boeing's requirements but also the FAA's requirements.
Meanwhile, China has warned that its aviation industry is growing unsustainably fast, with insufficient qualified personnel, airports or airspace, and the sector faces huge pressures to ensure safety. No applications for new airlines will be accepted before 2010.
Still, on Monday arch rival Airbus said it expects Chinese airlines will need up to 150 of its jets over the next five years, including its giant A380s, as Chinese airlines expand to serve a domestic and international travel boom.
Airbus foresees local carriers needing 113 of its A380s -- the world's largest passenger aircraft -- over the next two decades, even after a production process plagued by delays spawned billions of dollars of losses at parent firm EADS.
Bruns declined to give exact projections in China for Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner. But five Chinese airlines would get their new Dreamliner jets in June 2008 -- in time for the Beijing Olympics, he said.