Zhuhai Airshow

China's home-grown aircraft, the C919, gains 50 new preliminary orders

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 3:10am

China's home-grown aircraft, the C919, received 50 new preliminary orders from three airlines yesterday, bringing total orders for the 150-seat airliner to 380.

The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), the manufacturer of the aircraft scheduled to have its first flight test in 2014, also signed a memorandum of understanding with the defunct Eastern Air Lines, reviving speculation about a rebirth of the US-based airline.

British Airways and Ryanair have agreed to purchase the aircraft without specifying the size of the orders.

Hebei Aviation Group, which is controlled by China Energy Group, and Joy Airlines, a joint venture between China Eastern Airlines and Aviation Industry Corporation of China, have ordered 20 aircraft each. Existing customer GE Capital meanwhile doubled its order to 20.

The new orders signed at the 9th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai bring the total number of customers of the C919 to 15.

Rival Bombardier has received a similar reception for its C series, which can accommodate 100-149 seats, with 352 orders from 13 customers. "I don't think the C919 and the C Series are direct competitors," said Andy Solem, vice-president of China & North Asia sales at Bombardier Commercial Aviation. "They only overlap partially at some parts of the market in the world."

Bombardier signed a strategic co-operation MOU with Comac in March, to jointly develop programmes including a cockpit, human and machine interface with aircraft electrical systems. Part of the manufacturing as well as the design of the C Series have been allotted to the Shenyang production line of mainland aircraft manufacturer, AVIC.

The market for single-aisle aircraft, with 150-180 seats, is dominated by Airbus and Boeing. For airlines, operating a new aircraft type is a big undertaking.

"As a regional airline, it would increase our maintenance and operating costs," an executive from Xiamen Airlines said. The airline is a pure Boeing operator flying B737-800s. It will take delivery of the B787 in 2014.

Separately, Xinhua reported China will need 4,960 commercial planes over the next 20 years, representing a value of US$563 billion. The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) forecast 4,273 "large" passenger planes would be needed by 2031.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg