In an effort to counter the successes of the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737, China is planning to construct its own aircraft, the C919. The aircraft has been built by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), and it is set to be tested sometime in 2016.
The C919 is a twin-engine airliner, and it enjoyed its celebratory rollout last month in Shanghai. While China has high hopes for the aircraft, it is unlikely to see much use in the United States or Europe anytime in the near future.
This is because COMAC actually uses many American and European components in the airliner. Getting these foreign components to work properly with the Chinese components will take a considerable amount of planning. Really, it could be years before the jet is ready for commercial service.
The vice president of COMAC and lead designer of the C919 Wu Guanghui says that systems integration is a key challenge of the aircraft. COMAC has been making use of various prototypes in order to properly test the different components. When all is said and done, the C919 could cost about half the price of the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. The C919 is expected to cost about $50 million.
For now, developers are working to ensure that the plane weighs as little as possible. Planes that weigh less are more fuel efficient and therefore easier to sell to airline companies. For now, the vast majority of companies that are planning to order C919 aircrafts are airline firms that are owned by China. However, if the plane ends up being a major hit, that could easily change.
That being said, COMAC has its work cut out in making the C919 an international success story. So far, Chinese airplane builders have been unable to have any commercial jets approved in the United States or in Europe. With no involvement from American or European aviation officials, the C919 is also unlikely to be approved in the long run. In order to receive such certification, an aircraft manufacturer typically needs to have regulators involved from the very start. Without approval from agencies in the United States or Europe, the plane will be very difficult to sell in international markets.
Technical director of BOC Aviation Hugh Newman said, “They don’t have the international customer-support network. It is something that has taken Airbus and Boeing decades to develop, and it’s not something that can be replicated in a few years.”
Senior aviation analyst Will Horton added that the C919 is only likely to be used in China and in developing countries that are political allies of the Chinese. So while it’s possible that the C919 could prove these experts wrong, this will most likely just become the state aircraft of China.