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Can China’s New Aircraft Compete With Airbus and Boeing?

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Skift Take

China’s state-owned airplane maker is presenting the COMAC C919 on the worldwide stage with excessive hopes of stealing market share from Airbus and Boeing.

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Guests to final week’s Singapore Airshow witnessed a landmark second: the worldwide debut of China’s C919 passenger jet.

Beijing is betting large that the brand new airplane will shake up the dominance of Airbus and Boeing – however is it as much as the problem?

The C919 is an plane developed by COMAC, a state-owned agency based in 2008 to develop passenger airliners. Whereas its first product, the ARJ21, chalked up simply 120 deliveries as of late 2023, there are larger hopes for the C919.

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The airplane made its first flight in 2017 after years of delays. At current, solely the Civil Aviation Administration of China has licensed the brand new jet to fly in passenger service. China Jap Airways began industrial operations with the C919 final yr and at present has 4 in its fleet of greater than 600 plane.

The C919 Goes Worldwide

Two models graced the biennial business gathering in Singapore and COMAC is trying to garner worldwide curiosity and potential orders.

The narrowbody jet is designed to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, and represents China’s want to problem the dominance of COMAC’s two Western counterparts. It was no accident that COMAC used the airshow to announce Tibet Airways’ agency order for 40 models.

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Even so, the C919’s journey towards world acceptance is barely simply starting. COMAC will quickly be searching for approval from EASA, the European Aerospace regulator. Securing this and convincing worldwide airways of the plane’s efficiency might be key challenges. 

Though China refers back to the jet as “homegrown,” Chinese language newspaper The International Instances has beforehand said that no less than 40% of the elements of the plane are internationally sourced. 

Take its engines for instance. These are equipped by Safran, the identical firm that powers many A320neo and 737 Max planes. Different worldwide partnerships embody joint ventures with Europe’s Liebherr-Aerospace for the touchdown gear, North Carolina-based Honeywell offering the flight management methods, and GE Aviation producing the airplane’s flight deck shows. It actually is a world effort.

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On board the C919

An even bigger query stays: Is China’s new airplane any good? Stepping on board the plane in Singapore, there’s a variety of familiarity with a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.

The fashions delivered to China Jap have been configured with eight enterprise class seats in 2-2 configuration. These function a cradle shell and a small privateness display screen. 

Additional again, the 156 economic system choices are within the conventional 3-3 setup, nonetheless not all is what it appears. The C919 borrows a trick from the Airbus A220 (in service with JetBlue, Delta, and others) to supply an additional half-inch width to the center seats. 

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The thought is that there might be much less of a struggle for shoulder room with neighboring passengers. All the seats have been produced by a Chinese language producer. 

From an operational perspective, the galleys really feel massive. In contrast to newer Airbus and Boeing fashions, COMAC has saved the area in a extra conventional format and has not been tempted to squeeze in a number of further seats.

C919 Flight Display
The C919 took to the skies above Singapore for its first worldwide outing (Picture: Ajay Awtaney)

Does the C919 Threaten Airbus and Boeing?

Narrowbodies are the bread and butter for the world’s two greatest airplane producers. Airbus and Boeing are firmly entrenched within the phase, with most manufacturing slots offered out till the tip of the last decade. 

COMAC needs the C919 to compete on this enviornment, boasting higher supply instances and pricing. The corporate at present has an orderbook of greater than 1,000 planes, primarily from leasing companies and Chinese language operators.

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Though this sounds promising, the C919 nonetheless has an extended option to go earlier than non-Chinese language airways think about it as a reputable different. Alongside regulatory hurdles, its flying vary must be improved. 

In its present type, the C919 jet can fly for a most of round 2,200 nautical miles for the bottom mannequin. By comparability, each the A320neo and 737 Max 8 can fly as much as 3,500nm.

Vary is necessary within the airline enterprise because it affords better route flexibility. Manufacturing additionally must be ramped up, which could possibly be a problem as COMAC establishes its provide chain and processes. 

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Enjoying Aircraft Politics

Even when COMAC can win over airline executives and fine-tune its manufacturing, politics may hamper its near-term success. For instance, Boeing’s 737 Max was grounded for an prolonged interval in China after it returned to service in the remainder of the world. 

For now, it appears Boeing and Airbus are monitoring the undertaking however don’t seem overly anxious. Christian Scherer, CEO of Airbus’ industrial plane enterprise, mentioned final week that the C919 is “not going to rock the boat.” 

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