China’s answer to Boeing and Airbus flew for the first time Friday in Shanghai, a key moment in the country's push to challenge the U.S. and Europe as a global manufacturer.
The C919, China's first domestically designed and built large airliner, took off Friday afternoon from Shanghai Pudong International Airport into hazy skies with a five-person crew aboard. The jet landed one hour and 19 minutes later after a seemingly uneventful first trial.
The question on the minds of most consultants and airline executives wasn’t whether the Chinese would ever get the C919 airborne after it was announced in 2008—but whether anyone other than state-owned Chinese airlines would want to buy the plane once it did.
With the flight, China joins the ranks of the few nations that have developed homegrown large airliners: the U.S., Russia, Brazil, Canada, the U.K., France and Germany. Made by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), the 168-seat C919 is roughly the same size as Airbus's A320 and Boeing's 737-800, which are the most popular airliners in the world.
The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or Comac, began in 2008 when the government combined several aviation companies from China’s previous failure to build a commercial jetliner. The goal was to disrupt Boeing and Airbus’s dominance in the Chinese market—where they control 95% of airline sales—and someday, compete on the global scale.
China’s investment in civilian aircraft manufacturing is enormous. The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, better known as Comac, unveiled the extent of its activities for the first time on Thursday, showing off a complex of more than 110 buildings.
Comac says it already has 570 orders from 23 buyers. But those have almost entirely come from Chinese companies and a couple of small overseas air carriers with links to China. A notable exception is an order for 20 planes from General Electric Capital Aviation Services; G.E. is also a big supplier to the C919 program.
China has learned a lot in recent years about how to build single-aisle planes by making many parts for Boeing 737s and by assembling entire A320s for Airbus. But the country’s dream of becoming a competitor in the global market for commercial aircraft started in 1972, when President Nixon visited China in a Boeing 707.
And although the plane represents a new challenger for aircraft sales, Airbus and Boeing, increasingly dependent on Chinese airlines for sales as well as on Chinese suppliers for parts, welcomed its arrival.
“The C919 will bring new competition to the market,” Airbus said in a statement. Yukui Wang, a Boeing spokesman, added: “We’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Comac for the successful development of the C919 airplane.”
The attention now turns to whether in the next decade or two, China and Comac can improve its airliners the way Brazil’s Embraer did in the 1990s to become a global player. Comac has already discussed 929 and 939 programs. And there will be plenty of demand in China to burnish further advances. Boeing anticipates the country will need $1 trillion worth of planes— more than 6,800 of them—in the twenty years through 2036.
Source and reference :
The New York Times