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20 Feb, 2024 12:28

Chinese competitor to Boeing and Airbus makes international debut

The C919 passenger jet staged a flyby at the Singapore Airshow
Chinese competitor to Boeing and Airbus makes international debut

China’s homegrown passenger jet, the C919, made its inaugural flight outside China on Sunday at the Singapore Airshow. The airliner, which took to the skies for its first commercial flight in May, has so far only been authorized to fly in its home country. 

The single-aisle jet, manufactured by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), could become the newest challenger to the commercial aviation duopoly of Boeing and Airbus, industry experts say. Comac announced on the sidelines of the air show on Tuesday that it had signed a deal with China’s Tibet Airlines and finalized an order for 40 of the narrow-body jets, which are designed to carry up to 192 passengers and travel up to 5,644km (3,500 miles).

The C919 is “not very different” from what Airbus and Boeing already have in the market, Christian Scherer, chief executive officer of Airbus’s commercial aircraft business, was quoted as saying on the sidelines of the air show by CNBC. It is “not going to rock the boat in particular,” Scherer claimed. He, however, acknowledged the C919 was a “legitimate effort” by China and that “the market is large enough for competition.” 

Meanwhile, Northcoast Research analyst Chris Olin previously told CNBC that industry experts believe that “the problems at Boeing, specifically the 737 Max, present an early opportunity for Comac.” US aerospace giant Boeing is not presenting any commercial aircraft at the show as it grapples with the fallout of the mid-flight blowout incident of a section of the fuselage of a 737 Max 9 aircraft in January.

Beijing greenlighted the C919 aircraft program 16 years ago, but the project faced a flood of regulatory and technical setbacks, including US export controls. While the plane is assembled in China, it heavily relies on Western components, such as flight controls and jet engines. The C919 uses the same engine as the Airbus A320neo narrow-body passenger jet.

Production of the aircraft began in 2011, and the first prototype was ready in 2015. It was certified by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in September 2022 and entered commercial service with China Eastern Airlines last year.

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