China’s jumbo jet sets course for global skies

By Hu Tao (China Features)


The twin-engine C919 took off from Shanghai Pudong Airport on its maiden flight on May 5, 2017, marking a milestone in China’s aviation industry.

It is expected that the Shanghai-based manufacturer COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) of China will be the next global aviation giant after Airbus and Boeing.

“The C919’s successful maiden flight realizes China’s dream of developing a jumbo airliner,” said COMAC chairman He Dongfeng.

“It not only marks a major step toward China becoming a global aviation powerhouse, but also offers the world new benefits from China’s development.”

The maiden flight crew comprised two pilots, two test flight engineers and one observer.

“A steady take-off and all systems functioned well the whole flight,” said co-pilot Wu Xin after the 79-minute maiden flight.

The aircraft’s name C919 is quite symbolic. The letter “C” stands for both China and COMAC, while the number 9 symbolizes “forever” in Chinese culture, and 19 represents the aircraft’s 190 seats at maximum capacity.


With a standard range of 4,075 kilometers, the narrow-body jet is comparable to the updated Airbus 320 and Boeing’s new generation 737.

“The C919 is made totally with Chinese intellectual property. It shows China finally has a jumbo passenger jet designed and developed in accordance with global airworthiness standards,” said chief designer Wu Guanghui.

China began developing large passenger jets in the 1970s and the first, the Y-10, had a successful test flight in 1980, but the project was later abandoned for some complicated reasons.

In 2007, the State Council approved plans to develop a large passenger jet. In November 2015, the first C919 rolled off the assembly line.

The C919 also represents cooperation between China and the rest of the world.

More than 200 enterprises in 22 provinces and cities in China took part in the development of the C919, and 16 leading international aviation companies were selected as airborne system suppliers, with 16 joint ventures set up.

Major components such as the avionics and control systems were sourced from the joint ventures and partners across Europe and the United States.

“You can see new giant of the global aviation industry. China is moving forward with major steps,” said Olivier Dubroeucq, executive vice president of the COMAC and AVIC program of Safran.

A leading aero engine and equipment manufacturer, Safran made the LEAP-1C engines and nacelles for the aircraft through CFM International, a joint venture between Safran Aircraft Engines and GE.

“China has created valuable opportunities in global aviation,” he said.

“We are not working in the short term in China. The market is here and we are right here. All we have done is to pave the way to share the future.”

Honeywell Aerospace Asia Pacific president Steven Lien was also confident of China’s aviation future.

“China is willing to share growth opportunities with the rest of the world. Honeywell has invested heavily in China, and we are picking the winner,” said Lien.

Honeywell provided the auxiliary power system, flight control package, wheel and braking system, and navigation package. Almost 1,000 Honeywell personnel around the world worked on the C919 project.

“Root in China, share the honor with the Chinese aviation industry. Honeywell cherishes great opportunities of growing together with the second largest economy in the world, sharing mutual benefits along with its growth,” said Lien.

The C919 was designed and developed first to meet the booming domestic civil aviation market and then global markets.

According to a Boeing forecast, China will require more than 6,000 new aircraft over the next two decades with a total value of 1 trillion U.S. dollars. It will need 5,110 new single-aisle aircraft by 2035.

Unsettling the dominance of Boeing and Airbus in the near future is unrealistic, observers say, but Chinese airliners could be a strong option for global carriers in decades to come.

COMAC is seeking airworthiness certificates from the Civil Aviation Administration of China and foreign aviation regulators before making its first deliveries around 2019.

As of June 2017, the C919 had 600 orders from 24 foreign and domestic customers, according to COMAC.

COMAC and United Aircraft Corporation of Russia announced in May a plan to jointly develop a wide-body jet for long-haul flights.

To become a real “competitor” in the global civil aviation market, China and its C919 still have a long way to go.

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