Domestic jet airliner set for 2016 take-off
Anita Lam in Seattle
The aircraft maker tasked with producing a Chinese rival for Boeing and Airbus passenger aircraft is scheduled to start delivering its first airliner in 2016.
Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or Comac, has pledged to roll out the new narrow-body jet the C919, which has up to 200 seats.
Comac engineers promise the new aircraft will be 15 per cent more fuel efficient than rivals such as Boeing's 737-800 and 737-900ER.
But though the mainland is geared up to have its first runway suitable for flight-testing next year, Boeing does not believe a threat to its dominance is imminent.
'The 737's next generation aeroplane is the most fuel-efficient and probably the most capable narrow-bodied aircraft flying today,' said Randy Tinseth, Boeing's vice president of marketing.
'I would find it difficult for any manufacturer to be able to build an aeroplane that will be so much more efficient than ours, whether it be the C919, Bombardier's C-series, or a Russian rival.
'We have lots of expertise and technology and we have been building for a very, very long time,' he said.
Tinseth said the C919's potential to be a successful competitor would not be apparent from the start.
The comment echoed the view of John Hamilton, Boeing's 737 chief engineer, who has already expressed doubts about the ability of the first generation of C919 aircraft to be competitive.
He also doubted Comac's ability to deliver its first plane by 2016.
Comac's other creation, the ARJ21 regional jet - which has up to 90 seats - is already two years behind its delivery schedule.
'There are going to be challenges to their C919 schedule,' Tinseth said.
If the C919 failed to meet its delivery schedule, it will give Boeing one less reason to re-engineer its 737 products in light of an engine upgrade of its rival model, the Airbus A320.
A decision will be made later this year, but Boeing chairman James McNerney said previously that the company preferred building a totally new aircraft to re-engineering an existing one.
By 2029, one in seven new aircraft produced are expected to be narrow-bodied. Analysts also expect the global passenger jet fleet to more than double from 17,000 at present to 35,000 by 2029 - of which 14 per cent will belong to mainland airlines.
With the focus of the aviation market shifting from the United States and Europe to Asia, China's aspiration to become the world's third-largest aircraft manufacturer should be a concern to all players, especially the dominating duopoly of Boeing and Airbus.
But Tinseth said Boeing was confident it would maintain its market share, which now stands at more than 50 per cent of the commercial planes flying in China.
'We will do well if we have the right strategies, we stay close to our customers, we invest in technology and we continue to build the highest quality and lowest cost products in the market,' he said. 'But it's a market that is probably big enough for one or more competitors to be successful.'
To clear a backlog of 3,440 orders and meet demand in the aviation industry, Boeing will ramp up production capacity by 40 per cent in the next three years.
This will include the addition of a second production line in South Carolina that will raise production capacity of 787 aircraft by five times from two planes a month this year to 10 planes a month in 2013.
The debut of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which was due in 2008, has repeatedly been delayed but is now due in the third quarter of this year.
Reaching for skies
Analysts expect the global passenger jet fleet to double by 2029
Mainland airlines are expected to be operating this percentage share of the global passenger jet fleet by 2029: 14%