Business, Economics and Jobs

China aviation: Up in the air


Picture of the China Southern Airlines first Airbus A380 taken in France on October 14, 2011.



There are few American writers who really understand the complexities of modern day China.

There are even fewer who can clearly and entertainingly articulate that knowledge to an American audience.

James Fallows fits both of those categories.

Luckily for us, the Wall Street Journal's China Real Time Report blog caught up with Fallows to discuss his new book "China Airborne."

Here's how the Journal frames the issue:

"China’s goal of building a world-class aviation industry has so far yielded few tangible results, but not for a lack of effort: The country is spending heavily on new aircraft development and aviation infrastructure, with plans for 70 new airports by 2015 and a commercial jet, the C919, meant to compete with best-sellers from Boeing and Airbus."

Fallows, of course, is a national correspondent for The Atlantic who spent much of the past several years living in and writing about China.

He's also an instrument-rated pilot and keen observer of the global aviation industry.

So "China Airborne" is a fascinating marriage of Fallows' knowledge of China and his aviation chops.

The book is also a sharp way to frame China's booming aviation industry and — to paraphrase the China Real Time Report — makes for an interesting proxy for understanding China's larger economic development.

Real Time China asked Fallows eight questions, ranging from the specifics of China's emerging aviation infrastructure to the surprising (for China, anyway) economic decentralization in this key industry.

The interview is a great read and includes one of the smartest observations you'll hear about China and Western attempts to cover the place:

"When I arrived in China six years ago, I was influenced by the 'Oh my God! Behold the works of the Chinese system!' tone of much outside coverage. What I’ve tried to convey is the range from impressive-to-incompetent, coordinated-to-chaotic that is modern China’s pell-mell rush for modernization."

Will the country succeed in this important industry?

And what will that success or failure say about China, its emerging economic model, and its impact on the region and the rest of the world?

These are the types of questions — and the search for answers — that matter to, yes, Boeing and Airbus.

But the larger points will also affect everyone in China and, well, just about everyone else on the planet.

Check it out.