China’s aviation milestone
C919 signature of the country’s breakthroughs in technology over last 5 years
Published: Oct 19, 2017 05:23 PM

C919 takes off at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. Photo: IC

When reviewing China's achievements over the past five years during the opening session of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Wednesday, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, pointed out that a nationwide innovation-driven strategy has allowed the country to witness a series of scientific and technological breakthroughs.

One of those is the C919 project, the first Chinese-built passenger jet.

This project is a prime example of the country's determination to continuously develop its aviation industry.

Three years ago, when Xi visited the Shanghai-headquartered Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), the producer of the C919, he said the country must accelerate its equipment manufacturing industry.

He also said it is a must to make the C919 project a success, as this would show China's strong ability to produce high-quality technology products.

Indeed, in May 2017, the C919 successfully completed its maiden flight in Shanghai, an inaugural flight that was witnessed by thousands of visitors from home and abroad.

This achievement is a milestone for the nation's aviation industry, which was established almost half a century before this historic breakthrough was achieved.

The homemade C919 has also made the skies more crowded, challenging the monopolies of Airbus and Boeing, which have dominated for decades.

The aircraft has independent intellectual property rights and its launch is ramping up Chinese demand in the global market, which comes at the right time and in the right way, according to the Xinhua News Agency, citing Wu Guanghui, C919's chief designer.

China's thriving aviation industry, now regarded as "the industrial crown", is a result of the whole country's overall enhanced equipment manufacturing industry, which has gone from strength to strength over the past years.

As a key national project, the C919 aircraft embodies core principles such as Chinese design, system integration and global bidding, which shows China is transforming into an aviation "commander" as COMAC has grasped more than 100 key technologies, including engine integrated design and telex flight control systems.

In September, COMAC also signed 130 new orders for its C919 with four Chinese leasing firms, making its total orders of the aircraft amount to 730 from a total of 27 customers.

Catching up with global players

The corporation said more than 200 enterprises in 22 provinces and cities across China were involved in the R&D of the C919. And 16 leading international aviation companies were selected as airborne system suppliers whereby 16 joint ventures were set up.

This strategy is in line with how global airplane manufacturers operate, as they also distribute their supplies domestically and globally.

And now, many Chinese manufacturing companies are producing components that are being distributed to global players such as Airbus and Boeing.

In terms of engine selection, COMAC selected the LEAP-1C engine, which is powered by Paris-headquartered Safran S.A, a leading aero engine and equipment manufacturer under the auspices of CFM International.   

Upon its completion, the C919 aircraft helped to strongly advance the development of China's aviation industry, setting a precedent for more similar aircraft to follow.

The latest news is that the ARJ21 aircraft, which has a Chinese-designed BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) installed, successfully completed a test flight in East China's Shandong Province on Sunday.

Furthermore, the C929, a 280-seat, wide-body aircraft, co-developed by COMAC and Russia's United Aircraft, seems to be on its way, as the two partners just co-released the aircraft's logo at the end of September.

COMAC facing challenges

But COMAC said it could take about seven years from the launch date of the project for the maiden flight of the C929 to be completed, and about 10 years for it to be delivered to customers, as calculated from past experiences.

Other limitations spotted by the corporation lie in the C919's development pathway, as its maiden flight is just the beginning of its market journey, and could be confronted with factors such as safety issues, a weaker economy, market acceptance and brand image in the near future.

Europe-based Airbus said on Monday that it would take a majority stake in Bombardier's C-Series passenger jet, which media reported would give Airbus a 50.01 percent stake in the Canada-based aerospace company and allow it to market the 100-150 seat plane, a deal which could challenge the C919.

Although COMAC declined to comment on the deal when reached by the Global Times, insiders believe the move could also cast a shadow over the C919's entrance into the global aviation market.