China's first large airliner delayed by technology problems

First deliveries of 168-seat C919 pushed back until 2018, with manufacturer forced to buy components from US companies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 May, 2014, 1:19am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 May, 2014, 6:58pm

The maiden flight of China's first large commercial passenger jet, the C919, has been delayed until the end of next year, with planes expected to be delivered to buyers in 2018, a senior official at its state-owned manufacturer said yesterday.

Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac) chief financial officer Tian Min said assembly work would start in the second half of this year and that a test flight was likely to take place at the end of next year.

The 168-seat C919 had been expected to make its maiden flight this year, before delivery to buyers in 2016.

The delay reflects the difficulties China has faced in its efforts to make a large aircraft able to compete with jets produced by global aviation giants Airbus and Boeing.

"Our plane will target mainly the domestic market and will gradually look to tap the international markets," Tian said at a media briefing held in Shanghai yesterday.

"The aviation market in China is strong enough for all the plane-makers to benefit."

Comac, established in 2008 to push ahead with the airliner project, signed a series of significant supply deals with leading firms like General Electric and Honeywell in 2010.

Comac executives said at the time they were confident the C919 project would be completed this year.

But China lacked core plane-making technologies and had to work with big international names to acquire key components and systems for the C919.

Analysts said the delay showed that Beijing's optimism about the airliner industry might have been overdone.

Former premier Wen Jiabao was a strong advocate of domestic airliner production, arguing that it would create a massive number of jobs.

Tian said about 400 orders for C919 jets had been secured.

Comac said the one big advantage it had over rivals was pricing. "We put a focus on cost control to make sure our planes are competitive on price," Tian said.

Comac is set to deliver a regional passenger jet, the 90-seat ARJ21, to buyers soon. The company said buyers had placed orders for 252 ARJ21s.

It estimates that mainland carriers will buy 5,000 jets, worth about US$560 billion, in the next two decades.

The company is also joining hands with a Russian counterpart to study a plan to make a wide-bodied jet larger than the C919. However, Tian said there was no time frame for the building of the larger aircraft.