Once Banned, China’s CIMC-Tianda Now Wants to Build Boarding Bridges at U.S. Airports

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Jun 15 2020 |
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The Chinese state-backed company stole the intellectual property of Jetway Systems.

If you come to these parts often, you probably are well-versed in how China’s government is aiming to take over entire industries, one government contract at a time.

In 2019, much of the attention focused on how China’s state-owned and state-subsidized companies like the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) and Build Your Dreams (BYD) were managing to win contracts to build U.S. rail cars and electric buses, respectively, by severely underbidding competitors. The goal of China’s government wasn’t to make money on these contracts, but to use “state champions” like CRRC and BYD to eventually monopolize entire industries. 

If China is successful, not only would this lead to incredible job loss – every $1 billion given to Chinese SOEs costs up to 5,100 U.S. jobs – there are major national security concerns posed by giving China access to U.S. transportation infrastructure.

At the end of last year, Congress responded by passing the bipartisan Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act (TIVSA), which banned state-owned or controlled entities like CRRC and BYD from federally funded contracts to build rail cars and buses. There’s still work to be done – a loophole gives the companies two years to continue to try to win contracts – but the passage of TIVSA was a step in the right direction.

Now attention is shifting to airport boarding bridges. You know, that thing you step onto when you get off the plane and head into the terminal.

Chinese company CIMC-Tianda is aiming to win a contract to build the bridges at Miami International Airport. This has drawn the attention of Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, with Florida lawmakers cautioning that the company “may seek to infiltrate and exploit American aviation and security networks.”  

Here’s a little background on CIMC-Tianda. First, the company is known to be backed by the Chinese regime, much like CRRC or BYD. Frankly, that alone is worth worrying about.

But CIMC-Tianda also has gotten into trouble after it was found by a federal court to have stolen the intellectual property of Jetway Systems, Inc., a U.S. company that also makes boarding bridges (in fact, you might have heard a pilot refer to the bridge as “the jetway.”)

CIMC-Tianda was banned from selling designs other than its own for a decade. Now the ban has expired, and the company is looking to get back into the game, including in Miami.

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R) joined with Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) to urge Miami International Airport to reject CIMC-Tianda’s bid. In a letter to airport CEO Lester Sola, the lawmakers cautioned that “aviation is a critical sector of our nation’s infrastructure, with airports in particular emerging as a high priority target for sabotage and espionage by our adversaries.” They continue:

“The increasing digitalization of aircraft systems and airport security procedures places the sensitive and personal information of American travelers at an increased exposure risk and creates new vulnerabilities for malign actors, like the Chinese regime, to exploit. It is vital to fully consider all security and privacy risks when considering whether to allow firms with ties to the Chinese regime to embed themselves within U.S. airports.”

The trio aren’t the only ones raising concerns. Rubio joined with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and several House lawmakers to “prevent any of the $10 billion in airport grants passed in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to be used for contracts with Chinese-owned or subsidized companies.” 

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers also put forth the Airport Infrastructure Resources Security Act last month, which according to The Hill would “prohibit the use of federal funds to purchase airport equipment made in countries that may pose a national security threat to the United States, such as China.”

So what's going to happen in Miami? Politico Morning Trade reported on Monday that CIMC-Tianda “appears poised to win” the contract at Miami International Airport, as it put forth the lowest bid. Of course, that isn’t surprising, considering that we know China’s game plan is to severely underbid on these contracts, part of its long-term strategy to dominate industries.

CIMC-Tianda’s competitor for the Miami contact, by the way, is ThyssenKrupp, which spent six years fighting an intellectual property battle of its own with the company.