As german chancellor Angela Merkel visits China this week, it is expected that China will order up to 100 Airbus narrowbodies. Looking at the delivery rate to chinese airlines and the backlog that chinese airlines have with Airbus, an order for 100 aircraft is not too much, even if the bulk of these would be for the ceo version. If I counted correctly there were 125 deliveries of A320 family aircraft between January 2011 and July 2012. The current backlog of chinese airlines is 186 aircraft - at the current delivery rate this is good for about 28 months. At the end of 2014 all the backlog would be gone.
There are an additional 42 orders from lessor ICBC and a MoU for 36 aircraft from CALC though, but these aircraft could also be placed outside China. At best (here: when all aircraft are placed with chinese airlines) the backlog would be Zero at the end of 2015, just when the neo enters service but probably a long time before delivery slots would be available (although some chinese airlines or lessors may have reserved a limited number of slots in advance).
But before the A320neo will be available in larger numbers for chinese airlines (probably then coming from the chinese Airbus factory in Tianjin), Airbus can sell a bunch of ceo aircraft to chinese airlines meanwhile, thereby utilize also the Tianjin factory until the ramp up of the neo provides for a smooth transition there.
What is the situation at Boeing? There were 77 deliveries to chinese airlines from January 2011 until the end of July, a much slower pace than at Airbus. There are 212 open orders from China for the B737NG, good for 53 months of supply at the current delivery rate. This takes us into 2017 but well before the targeted MAX EIS and any open delivery slot for the reengined version of the B737. So another order for the B737NG from China is almost inevitable as well to satisfy the growing chinese aviation market.
A little unknown in the context of narrowbody aircraft supply to chinese airlines is the C919 and when this aircraft will enter into airline service. I do not know anybody who firmly believes that this aircraft will be on time (meaning a 2016 EIS). I would deem a 2018 EIS as a success, an even later date not to be a real surprise. And I would not expect a sudden ramp up to meet a significant part of the demand from chinese airlines.
The other unknown: the chinese economic activity. We are just seeing a considerable slowdown here. Highspeed Rail is another factor which could slow the growth in aviation. Boeing denied that possibility in their Current Market Outlook, but used numbers from 2009 in their presentation. Words from chinese airline managers sound different.
The chinese market is important for both Airbus and Boeing - 20% of all Airbus narrowbodies were delivered to China since January 2011 and 12.5% of all B737NG's went there. So a slowdown of economic activity in China is also of great risk for both manufacturers, in particular for Airbus.
UPDATE: About 30 minutes after I posted this entry, China Southern reported slumping profit due to the economic slowdown.