What is the C919? The C919 is a narrow-body passenger jet built by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), a state-owned company based in Shanghai. The Chinese government formed Comac in 2008 to design and build the single-aisle C919. It is designed to compete with Boeing’s 737 and Airbus’ A320. The C919 made its maiden test flight in 2017 and was certified to fly by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in September after 14 years of development. Comac delivered the first C919 jet to China Eastern Airlines in Shanghai in December. The plane is designed to carry between 158 and 192 passengers. How has the C919 been received? China Eastern Airlines ordered four of the aircraft in May at a cost of US$99 million each. Comac has said it plans to deliver the rest of the orders within the next two years. At China’s biggest air show in Zhuhai in November, Comac said it had secured orders from seven leasing firms for 300 planes, a little over a month after it was certified to fly. By late 2022, Comac had received 305 orders for the C919 in China, while Boeing had only received 116 for its 737 series, according to a report from the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics), a Berlin-based think tank. Comac deputy general manager Zhang Yujin said in January the company had received more than 1,200 orders for the jet. What is the outlook for the C919? After being delivered to China Eastern Airlines in December, the C919 will undergo more than 100 hours of test flights, with stops in Shanghai, Beijing, Xian, Kunming, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Lanzhou, Haikou, Wuhan, Nanchang, and Jinan, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The C919 began its flight validation process on December 26. Upon completion, the plane will receive confirmation of its operational safety, maintenance reliability, and support capabilities. Xinhua reported the C919 is expected to meet the rest of the requirements in the spring, after which it will be put into commercial operation. Comac anticipates reaching an annual manufacturing capacity of 150 aircraft within five years. Can the C919 really compete with Airbus and Boeing? China’s home-grown passenger jet could break the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus in the domestic market and beyond despite its reliance of foreign parts, according to Merics. The size of China’s aviation market, strong industrial policy and a sector dominated by state-owned companies gives the C919 an edge to advance the country’s “strategic objectives” in aviation, it said. China has strong ambition in the commercial aviation market and the central government has laid out plans for the C919 to gain 10 per cent domestic market share by 2025. Boeing’s China business, meanwhile, has been entangled in souring relations between Beijing and Washington. Its 737 MAX was grounded in China for more than four years following two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, before returning to service in January. Merics said that narrow-body jets are the “bread-and-butter models” for manufacturers, accounting for about 60 per cent of all planes produced. US giant Boeing touts ‘close relationships’ as basis of future growth in China However, Boeing’s 737 family has been trailing the C919 for new orders in China. By late 2022, Boeing had only received 116 for its 737 series, according to Merics. Airbus led the pack with 565 orders for its A320 in China, suggesting the duopoly is becoming a triopoly to the detriment of Boeing, Merics said. But because China’s airlines are accustomed to operating Western passenger jets, the move to include C919 in their fleet is going to be gradual, Merics added. China’s big three state-owned airlines – China Southern, Air China, China Eastern – have placed a combined 294 orders for Airbus’ A320 family and Boeing’s 737, but only 20 each for the C919. What are the potential problems for the C919? China has high hopes that the C919 will reduce dependence on foreign technology as ties with Western countries deteriorate. However, most parts used for the C919 are imported from foreign manufacturers, including the engine, avionics, control systems, communications and landing gear. Comac has been working to replace some of the foreign parts, including an alternative for the LEAP engine made by CFM International, a joint venture between American firm GE Aviation and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines. Aviation is among the sectors in advanced technology negatively affected by deteriorating China-US relations. Several subsidiaries of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China , which is a shareholder in Comac, have been added to the US Commerce Department’s list of Chinese companies with alleged military ties. China’s aviation industry is facing more export control restrictions from the US as Washington is deeply concerned with the country’s military-civilian fusion strategy, which aims to modernise the country’s defence forces by integrating civilian research and the commercial sector with military-industrial players.