China certifies domestically-made jet to compete with Boeing, Airbus

Published on Oct 01, 2022 09:09 PM IST

The aircraft, which took about 14 years to develop by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), is built to take on Boeing’s 737 Max and the Airbus’ A320neo in the years ahead

A woman stands near a model of China's domestically made C919 passenger jet during the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, on September 1, 2022. (AP)
A woman stands near a model of China's domestically made C919 passenger jet during the China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, on September 1, 2022. (AP)

China’s first domestically-made jetliner, C919, which received its fit-to-fly certificate from the government on Friday, is expected to rival Boeing and Airbus but has a long way to fly before taking on the two giant Western aeroplane-makers.

The aircraft, which took about 14 years to develop by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), is a 168-seater, single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft built to take on Boeing’s 737 Max and the Airbus’ A320neo in the years ahead.

Chinese state media and experts highlighted the airworthiness certificate, saying now besides the US, China is the only other country capable of making a large passenger aircraft with Airbus being a European company.

President Xi Jinping, who met representatives from the C919 project team on Friday, called the development a breakthrough in “China’s high-end equipment manufacturing” and urged “for solid progress in building the country into a manufacturing powerhouse”.

“Safety and reliability should come first, and all potential safety hazards should be eliminated,” Xi was quoted as saying by the official news agency Xinhua.

The aircraft conducted its successful maiden flight in 2017 and the first C919 passenger aircraft will be delivered by the end of this year, the news agency reported.

The C919, the development of which has been described as a landmark project for China, receiving the airworthiness certificate is a symbol of China being a “manufacturing power” and its “level of industrialisation”, a leading civil aviation expert from China said, adding, however, that the “C919 still has a long way to go”.

“Certification is only the first step, and there is still a long way to go, especially for commercial operations. Fuel costs, depreciation costs, leasing costs and airport costs are all related to aircraft, accounting for more than 60% of the airline’s costs -- how to reduce the above costs under the premise of ensuring safety is related to the subsequent operation of C919,” Li Xiaojin, director of the Civil Aviation University of China’s, Aviation Development Institute, told HT.

“The same type as the C919 -- Boeing 737 series, Airbus 320 series etc-- have been in operation for nearly 50 years. C919 still has a long way to go,” Li said.

Li pointed out from the economic point of view, like India, China is a country with 1.4 billion people, and the demand for large aircraft will grow quickly in the future.

“On September 23, 2021, Boeing reported that China needs 8,700 new aircraft valued at $1,470 billion in the next 20 years. (The Chinese company) COMAC also predicted that the Chinese market will have space for 9,084 aircraft with 50 seats or more by 2040, accounting for 22% of the world’s total. (So) China cannot rely on the import of foreign aircraft for a long time,” Li added.

The C919 currently has 28 customers with orders totaling 815 planes, the state media reported, adding that its first customer could be one of China’s top airlines, China Eastern.

“Climb to the top of the world in science and technology,” Xi told the C919 team on Friday. That might take some time and flying hours for China to achieve in civil aviation.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sutirtho Patranobis has been in Beijing since 2012, as Hindustan Times’ China correspondent. He was previously posted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he covered the final phase of the civil war and its aftermath. Patranobis covered several beats including health and national politics in Delhi before being posted abroad.

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