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From one of our most influential journalists, here is a timely, vital, and illuminating account of the next stage of China’s modernization—its plan to rival America as the world’s leading aerospace power and to bring itself from its low-wage past to a high-tech future.
In 2011, China announced its twelfth Five-Year Plan, which included the commitment to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars to jump-start its aerospace industry. In China Airborne, James Fallows documents, for the first time, the extraordinary scale of China’s project, making clear how it stands to catalyze the nation’s hyper-growth and hyper-urbanization, revolutionizing China in ways analogous to the building of America’s transcontinental railroad in the nineteenth century.
Completing this remarkable picture, Fallows chronicles life in the city of Xi’an, home to 250,000 aerospace engineers and assembly-line workers, and introduces us to some of the hucksters, visionaries, entrepreneurs, and dreamers who seek to benefit from China’s pursuit of aeronautical supremacy. He concludes by explaining what this latest demonstration of Chinese ambition means for the United States and for the rest of the world—and the right ways for us to respond.
of dependable income as these carriers began building passenger-travel networks. Two years later, Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic increased international excitement about aviation so much that, within the two years after that, worldwide investment in airplane and airline companies tripled. Even through the Depression of the 1930s, the improvements in speed, safety, and comfort of passenger planes made the airlines one of the few growing industries in the United States. It was
envisioned. Controllers in the tower could not even see the airplanes they were supposed to be directing. The glass was dirty; shades were pulled down; controllers might be shuffling papers at their desks even when they were telling airplanes where to move along the taxiways. Moreover, the obsessive adherence to rules and procedures that had made civil aviation so safe in the outside world was still unfamiliar in Chinese organizational life, despite the changes since E. E. Bauer’s time. One
in stages: first up to 3,000 feet, then 5,000 feet, then for the airliners well up into the “flight levels,” usually above 30,000 feet. Airliners fly that high precisely because the air is so thin. Within limits, the higher it goes, the less wind resistance, or drag, an airplane has to force itself through, so the better fuel mileage it gets. It looked as if we needed to get to about 10,000 feet to go safely over the mountains—that was our guess from the charts, which themselves were in principle
Nature and Development of China’s Aviation Industry,” testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission hearing on “China’s Emergent Military Aerospace and Commercial Aviation Capabilities. Panel IV: China’s Aviation Industrial Complex,” May 20, 2010, p. 3. As part of this testimony he also said, “The aviation industry has more than 130 large and medium-sized factories and research institutes employing 250,000 workers scattered across the country, especially in the deep
emphasis on practical industrial applications. • Where China is not capable of domestic innovation, China will continue to import technology from advanced economies. However, China will seek to actively domesticate that technology through a program of ‘assimilate and re-invent.’ The recent program for production in engines for high speed rail is offered as an example of the ‘assimilate and re-invent’ approach. Dan Harris, “China’s 12th Five Year Plan: A Preliminary Look,” China Law Blog,