China's home-grown plane rises to the challenge

Nov 18, 2012 by Bill Savadove

China's home-grown passenger plane was only a model at the country's premier airshow, but a growing number of orders show Beijing's drive to challenge the dominance of Boeing and Airbus.

State-backed Commercial Aircraft Corporation of (COMAC) said it won 50 orders for the planned 168-seat C919 at the Zhuhai airshow, which ends on Sunday, bringing the total to 380.

China's is creating massive demand for planes as growing incomes boost air travel, with US aviation giant Boeing estimating the country will need 5,260 commercial jets over the next 20 years.

But China wants a piece of that multi-billion dollar market as it tries to develop its own technology and then look overseas for sales.

The plane is a symbol of national pride which would compete with Boeing's 737 and the A320 of European consortium Airbus, but catching up might take at least a decade, industry officials and analysts said.

The challenges are formidable: China not only needs to get the plane in the air—targeted for 2014—but ramp up production and build a market by convincing buyers of its safety and reliability, they said.

"The goal of the Chinese is to be in a few years at the same level as different parties around the world—of course Airbus and Boeing," said David Lopez Grange, general director of Spanish aeronautics firm Aritex.

"Maybe it's not a long time—10 years. China will be a very important player in the world in a few years," he told AFP.

Aritex, a top-tier supplier for Airbus, has just won a contract to assemble the central wing box—which secures the wing in the body—of China's C919.

Although COMAC says the plane will have "Chinese characteristics", it is relying on foreign technology for key parts of the project, including the engines, to be supplied by French-American venture CFM International.

"The project provides a chance for China to obtain certain technology through cooperation with foreign countries, so as to advance its own aviation manufacturing," an aviation analyst at a Chinese securities firm said.

"The aircraft may have a share of the market, but it may take years before it can compete against the two foreign producers (Boeing and Airbus)," the analyst, who declined to be named, told AFP.

China's aviation dreams date back to the 1970s, when leader Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing backed a project to build China's own plane. Only three Y-10s were ever built and their heavy weight made them impractical.

As COMAC develops the C919, it is also building a smaller regional jet which seats 78 to 90 passengers, but that project is years behind schedule.

The ARJ21 regional jet made a test flight in 2008 but the deadline to deliver planes to customers a year after has fallen by the wayside.

COMAC, which took over the project from its shareholder Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), said earlier this month that it would assemble 50 regional jets annually by 2014. It has four prototypes now.

The company is targeting annual production of 150 of the larger C919 planes by 2020.

"Increasing orders show that both domestic and foreign consumers have given the C919 their endorsement," COMAC general manager He Dongfeng told state media.

But some potential buyers are waiting, including Chinese budget carrier Spring Airlines, which is a devoted customer of the Airbus A320.

"If the plane's performance is mature and the market welcomes it, then we can consider buying it," Spring spokesman Zhang Wuan told AFP.

The latest orders were booked by two Chinese carriers: Joy Air, partly owned by AVIC which is backing the project, and two-year old Hebei Airlines.

A foreign company, aircraft leaser GE Capital Aviation Services, also ordered 10, Chinese media reported. Another unit of GE in the aviation sector has said it will supply engines and avionics to the plane through ventures.

Explore further: Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China 'needs 4,960 planes by 2031'

Nov 13, 2012

China will need 4,960 commercial planes over the next 20 years, representing a value of $563 billion, the official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday, as air travel demand is expected to increase.

Paris Air Show spotlights fuel cost fears

Jun 20, 2011

(AP) -- Airlines will be seeking a cleaner, cheaper way to fly and planemakers will be angling for billions in new contracts Monday at the Paris Air Show, which stars a solar plane, biofuel jet engines and ...

US plane makers teaming with Chinese firms

Jul 16, 2012

(AP) — Walter Beech was one of America's greatest aviation pioneers, a former World War I flyer who spent three years after the war touring the country as a barnstorming exhibition pilot. That experience spawned ideas ...

Rolls-Royce to 'expedite' engine delivery to Boeing

Aug 27, 2010

Rolls-Royce said Friday it was working closely with Boeing to rush through delivery of engines to the US aerospace giant which has been forced to announce a further delay to its Dreamliner jet programme.

Recommended for you

Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

Apr 18, 2014

The work of a research leader at Michigan Technological University is attracting attention from Michigan's Governor as well as automotive companies around the world. Xiaodi "Scott" Huang of Michigan Tech's ...

Large streams of data warn cars, banks and oil drillers

Apr 16, 2014

Better warning systems that alert motorists to a collision, make banks aware of the risk of losses on bad customers, and tell oil companies about potential problems with new drilling. This is the aim of AMIDST, the EU project ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ScooterG
1 / 5 (2) Nov 18, 2012
You won't catch me riding in a chinese-made airplane.
nanotech_republika_pl
not rated yet Nov 18, 2012
But we'll see you on the Made-in-China scooter.

More news stories

Hackers of Oman news agency target Bouteflika

Hackers on Sunday targeted the website of Oman's official news agency, singling out and mocking Algeria's newly re-elected president Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a handicapped "dictator".

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...