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China Eastern Airlines

China Eastern Airlines in talks to place order for five of Comac’s home-made C919 aircraft

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 4:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 11:00pm

China Eastern Airlines Corp is in talks to become the latest customer of Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac), giving a much-needed leg up to the order books of the country’s home-grown aircraft manufacturer.

The Shanghai-based carrier was finalising plans to place an order for five of Comac’s C919 single-aisle passenger jets, with as many as 168 seats in standard configurations, Yang Yang, the aircraft maker’s director of the marketing research centre, said at the Zhuhai Air Show.

China Eastern’s order brought the commitments for C919 to 570 aircraft by 23 customers, including Air China, China Southern Airlines and Citic Financial Leasing, Yang said, without revealing the catalogue price of the plane.

Comac, also based in Shanghai, is the latest iteration of China’s ambition to nurture a domestic manufacturer to break the duopoly held by Airbus and Boeing in the assembly of civilian aircraft carrying more than 150 passengers.

The C919 first rolled off the assembly lines in November 2015. The aircraft has a range of 2,200 to 3,000 nautical miles, allowing a Shanghai-based airline to fly it as far south as the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, as far west as Lahore in Pakistan and as far east as Tokyo, according to Comac’s marketing brochures. A New York-based C919 customer could potentially fly the aircraft to the US West Coast, as far south as Bogota and as far north as Vancouver.

The C919 was in final certification for a test flight either later this year or early next year, the aircraft’s chief designer Chen Yong said in an interview with the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong last month.

The aircraft can carry 150 passengers in a standard configuration and will have a larger version with as many as 220 seats, putting it in the same class to compete with Airbus’ A320 and Boeing’s 737 jets.

“We welcome competition because it is very healthy for the business and for customers,” Airbus’ China chief operating officer Francois Mery said at the Zhuhai show.

Chinese airlines are projected to need as much as six trillion yuan of new planes in the next two decades as they replenish their existing fleet and add jets to cater for a surge in demand for air travel, according to Comac’s projections.

The world’s most populous nation might see 6,865 planes delivered by 2035, Comac said.

That was plenty of demand to fill the order book of every manufacturer, said Boeing’s executives.

“The single-aisle market is the largest and remains the fastest-growing market in the world because of its low cost and the flexibility of its regional role,” said Darren Hulst, Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ managing director of marketing for Northeast Asia. “The market is still growing faster than we can cover.”

China’s demand for air travel is attracting more countries to join the fray to assemble aircraft.

Besides the C919, Comac also produces a 78-seat regional jet called the ARJ21, with a range of 1,200 to 2,000 nautical miles.

Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has a subsidiary that is making the MRJ regional jet to compete with the ARJ21, attempting to unseat the dominance in this segment of the aviation market held by Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier.