China’s homegrown large passenger airliner makes debut

By Tu Lei Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-3 0:28:02

C919 set to compete with 737, A320

China's first homemade large passenger jet, the C919, is being pulled out of a hangar during a ceremony at the final assembly plant of the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China in Shanghai on Monday. Photo: IC

China's first home-built large passenger aircraft, the C919, rolled off the final assembly line in Shanghai on Tuesday, as part of the country's effort to compete with Boeing and Airbus.

The plane is a competitor of the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320, with 158 passenger seats in a two-class cabin, or 168 in an all-economy class layout.

Production on the short-medium range single-aisle jet started in 2008 by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd (COMAC).

"The rollout of the C919 lays a solid foundation for the development of the civil aircraft manufacturing industry in China and the early use of the domestic aircraft in civil aviation transportation," Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), said at a ceremony on Monday.

Jin Zhuanglong, chairman of COMAC, said that the C919 will undergo tests in avionics, flight control, hydraulics and other systems in the coming days, and is expected to have its maiden flight next year.

According to COMAC, the company has received 517 orders for the C919 from 21 buyers both domestically and overseas, including 20 from Air China, 20 from China Eastern Airlines, and 20 from China Southern Airlines. In September this year, COMAC signed an initial agreement with ICBC Financial Leasing Co to lease 10 of its C919s to Thai airline City Airways.

Aviation independence

Li, the head of CAAC, said on Monday that the air transportation industry of China cannot completely rely on imports. "A great nation must have its own large commercial aircraft."

However, the rollout of the C919 is only the first step, and there is still a long way for the aircraft to enter commercial operation, despite the fact that China is the second-largest air transport market, analysts said.

Airbus said on Friday that it has decided to increase its production rate of the A320 family to 60 aircraft per month in the middle of 2019, due to ongoing high demand. Last year, Airbus received 1,456 net orders from 67 clients, including 1,321 of the A320 family.

Boeing has received 334 net orders for the 737 for from January to September this year. Last year, it received 1,432 net orders of passenger aircraft, including 1,104 Boeing 737NG and 737MAX.

"The C919 aircraft faces two main challenges. One is its operating performance, such as fuel efficiency and its adaptation for airports, compared with its rivals. The second is its after-sales maintenances services, which are more critical for COMAC in the future," Wang Yanan, deputy editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Boeing, Airbus in China

The C919 also faces controversy over whether the jetliner is indeed "homegrown," as many of the key components are made overseas, including engines made by US-French joint venture CFM International, CNN reported. Its landing gear and power system come from US-based Honeywell.

According to Chen Yingchun, a deputy chief designer of the C919 program, the jetliner's aerodynamic configuration and system integration were completed in China. However, China's technology on airborne equipment is still immature, 21st Century Business Herald reported.

The C919's entrance into the Chinese market came after years' of dominance by foreign rivals.

In 2006, Airbus signed a contract with its Chinese partners to build an assembly line of A320s, and two years later, the assembly line in Tianjin opened, with a monthly production of 4 aircraft.

In September this year, Boeing signed a contract with COMAC to co-establish a Boeing 737 completion center in China, the first Boeing production facility outside the US. 

Last year, COMAC forecast that China will need 5,541 mainline and regional airplanes over the next 20 years, and two-thirds will be single-aisle airplanes like the C919.

In August, Boeing predicted that China will be the world's largest aviation market, exceeding the US in 2030.

In a note sent to the Global Times on Monday, Airbus said COMAC will bring new competition to the market. "The market is big enough for more than two manufacturers and Airbus welcomes competition," Airbus said. 

Boeing also expressed confidence, saying, "Boeing is confident that its focus on customers, on its current products and on future product development will position Boeing well as it completes aggressively for new business."

Newspaper headline: China’s homegrown airliner makes debut

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