COMAC C919 achieves first flight milestone

May 08, 2017

Budding Chinese plane-maker COMAC created a stir on Friday when its competitor to the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, the C919, took to the air for the first time.

But nobody can accuse the company of blowing its own horn, at least on its English-language website.

The event, hailed as a breakthrough for the Chinese aviation industry that could ultimately prove a threat to the Airbus-Boeing duopoly, didn’t rate a mention on the company’s homepage three days later.

The event received excited coverage in Chinese media as the aircraft, piloted by a crew of five pilots and engineers, flew for about an hour from Shanghai before landing safely.

The 156 to 168-seat aircraft — powered by CFM International LEAP turbofan engines and still heavily dependent on Western technology — had 570 orders from 23 companies at last tally. It has been bought mostly by Chinese airlines and leasing companies, with GE Capital Aviation Services a notable exception.

With a range of about 3000 nautical miles (5,5000kms), it will be used mostly on domestic routes and expectations are it will enter service in 2020 with China Eastern, although no official date has been set. 

The May 5 maiden flight was originally slated for 2014 but was not rolled out until late 2015 after a series of delays blamed on technical difficulties and supply issues. 

While China still lags the European and US manufacturers, the C919 is seen as a significant achievement for the nation’s aviation industry and a potential stepping stone to a widebody aircraft.

China has also produced a 78- to 90-seat regional jet,  the ARJ21, which is already in service after receiving certification from Chinese authorities in the closing days of 2014.

Airbus, which has an A320 final assembly plant in China, has forecast demand in the nation for almost 6,000 aircraft, or about 18 per cent of global demand, over the next two decades.

 This will include 4320 single-aisle aircraft.

The European manufacturer predicted China would become the world leader for passenger air traffic with 6.8 per cent annual growth well above the global average.

Rival Boeing, which has announced plans for a Chinese 737 completion centre, was even more bullish with a forecast demand in China for 6,810 aircraft valued at $US1.025 trillion.