China's C919 airliner gets set to challenge Airbus and Boeing

Xavier Trudeau
Mai 20, 2017

Most of the flights will be on single-aisle jets like the C-919.

However, the jet likely faces a lengthy journey from first flight to commercial usage. "We took half a century to solve the first strategic issue [of plane development], it will also take many years to solve the second [market] problem", Jeff Cheng, a spokesman for the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), told Reuters news agency prior to the maiden flight. But it still has a long way to go before it's carrying passengers and competing with its USA and European competitors.

But plane-makers everywhere will know that if the C919 proves a worthy rival, it will win orders because demand for this class of plane is high.

After a flight lasting just over an hour, smiling test pilots disembarked to jubilation on the ground, where large screens beamed images of the airborne jet.

He added China should become more self-reliant.

It is now unlikely to carry commercial passengers until at least 2019.

The plane called C919 is thought to pose a major challenge to Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. "Eventually it needs to have some cornerstone customers, of which it will have because there are state-owned airlines, some of them are going to be forced to use it".

"Although it could be a long road, we will hard work to chase that goal (of manufacturing a large aircraft)", he said.

"Engineers have completed over 118 tests and are prepared for the maiden flight", COMAC said.

COMAC had already received 570 orders by the end of past year, nearly all from domestic airlines.

Royce also added that "it will be very hard for COMAC to break into western markets, particularly when very few airlines have experience with using COMAC's aircraft in service". The handful of foreign customers includes GE Capital Aviation Services and Thailand's City Airways.

"Aviation is a complex market and you need experience over a long time". Of the new planes, 75 percent are expected to be single-aisle. That honour belonged to an Airbus A320, assembled at the group's Tianjin Final Assembly Line (FAL).

While C919 is a home-grown aircraft, it has been dependent on foreign technology.

"I would say that a lot of their technology mirrors Airbus", he said.

However, the C919 will need to pass more tests to obtain Chinese airworthiness certification.

It is engaged in a long-term process of catching up to Europe, the United States, and Russian Federation in commercial aircraft, he said, adding this is one step in that direction.

Chinese media said the plane will cost around $50 million, significantly less than a Boeing 737 or Airbus 320, its closest equivalents.

"We believe C919 will bring new competition to the market", he said. The plane was originally due to fly in 2014 and be delivered to buyers in 2016. Plagued by a number of delays, it was first unveiled to much fanfare back in November 2015, a year after it had been scheduled to make its first flight.

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