China’s answer to Airbus, Boeing due to take off on Friday

Beijing established Comac in 2008 as a challenger to Airbus and Boeing amid the country’s fast-growing aviation sector

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 10:59pm

After a three year delay the long-awaited maiden flight of China’s 158-seat C919 passenger aircraft is scheduled for Friday, the latest step by the country to break the duopoly of Western giants Airbus and Boeing.

According to Xinhua, the first flight of the C919, assembled by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), will be conducted at the Shanghai International Airport on Friday, but could be delayed if weather conditions are not suitable.

The timing for the first flight was set after the passenger jet passed a thorough assessment in April.

A successful maiden flight, followed by a series of safety certification processes, could open a floodgate for new orders for the single-aisle passenger jet, likely to generate 1 trillion yuan (HK$1.13 trillion) in business for Comac, according to Galaxy Securities.

The C919 has received 570 orders and commitments from 23 customers, mainly Chinese state-owned carriers and leasing companies.

Galaxy predicted that the jet could eventually receive 2,000 orders worth more than 1 trillion yuan.

Steven Lien, president of Honeywell Aerospace in Asia-Pacific, said Comac became a true aircraft OEM (original equipment manufacturer) after the C919 takes flight.

He added that it will be “very, very soon” before the plane enters full service.

Xinhua cited Comac president He Dongfeng as saying that the first flight could be conducted when the conditions of the jet, crew and weather are all ready.

Beijing established Shanghai-based Comac in 2008 as a challenger to Airbus and Boeing amid the country’s fast-growing aviation sector.

The C919, a narrow-body passenger jet, relies on foreign industrial giants including General Electric to supply key parts such as engine and avionics systems.

It initially aimed to conduct its first flight in 2014.

But the C919, expected to compete with the single-aisle Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, made its official debut on November 2, 2015 during a roll-out ceremony in Shanghai.

Since then, it has undergone a total 118 ground tests, Xinhua said.

The C919 has been surrounded by suspicions about China’s ability to create its own jumbo jet due to the lack of core technologies and manufacturers for the key parts and systems.

President Xi Jinping, during a visit to the company in June, 2014, said that China would achieve the goal of creating its own jumbo jet at all costs.

Sources familiar with the project said that the Chinese state-owned juggernaut failed to gel with its foreign suppliers well in the development of C919.

The narrow-body jet is powered by engines from French-US supplier CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Safran.

Comac’s 90-seat regional jet, ARJ-21, made its first flight in 2008, but it was until late 2015 that a first delivery of the plane was made.

“The assembly of the C919 certainly incurred a high cost and took a long time, but it was a good lesson,” said Zhangjiang Platform Economic Research Institute deputy chairman Zhu Dan. “It is part of the efforts to move the manufacturing sector up the value chain.”

In Shanghai, the municipal government has been touting its success in having attracted Comac to set up its production base in the city.

The assembly of the C919 certainly incurred a high cost and took a long time, but it was a good lesson
Zhu Dan, Zhangjiang Platform Economic Research Institute

Shang Yuying, Shanghai Commission of Commerce director, said last week that the first flight of the C919 reflected the manufacturing might of the mainland’s commercial capital as it shifted its focus from low-end labour-intensive sectors to high-technology industries.