The latest Chinese narrow-body aircraft, designed to carry 156–190 passengers — COMAC C919— close to operating its first commercial flights. The first aircraft was handed over on December 9 to China Eastern Airlines. To keep up with demand, with 500 orders from 21 airlines already on the day of the official launch of the new aircraft, the Chinese aerospace concern plans to produce up to 150 aircraft annually over the next five years. In the future, this will allow China to compete with such recognized “monsters” as Airbus and Boeing.
Today, there are preliminary agreements for the supply of 1,200 aircraft. Interested parties include almost exclusively Chinese carriers and a few foreign lessors. At the stated pace, it will take at least eight years to complete this volume.
In December, the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration CAAC cleared the C919 for delivery and production after 14 years of development. China Eastern Airlines is the first airline to receive the narrow-body aircraft and begin 100-hour test flights as required by the CAAC before starting passenger flights.
The state carrier expects flights to begin in the spring of 2023, by which time manufacturers should be able to deliver more C919s to airlines. This will eventually provide a broad service network across the country.
Experts say China's booming aviation market will jump at the chance to acquire domestic narrow-body aircraft, despite Airbus placing in just one day Celestial record order for 292 aircraft.
Despite the presence of preliminary interest, it remains to be seen what real interest the C919 will generate outside the domestic market. Reports suggest that the price of the aircraft has risen sharply from initial estimates, which could make it difficult to sell in developing countries (and what else can a young manufacturer expect). However, as the volume of flights grows and the aircraft proves its worth, the prospects may become more predictable.
The C919 has been compared in performance to narrow-body civil aviation flagships Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. But can the Chinese newcomer compete with their long-term leadership?
Boeing has been struggling in China for years — political pressure and security concerns even led to his flagship 737 MAX being out of work for nearly four years. There are reports of China Southern's disgraced 737 MAX resuming flights in mid-January, but everyone remembers that previous attempts were canceled at the last second.
But Airbus is unlikely to feel disadvantaged anytime soon. Due to the fact that the A321 aircraft are currently being produced at the Tianjin plant, there is a fairly large and stable order book from Chinese airlines. And this means that the French liner has no problems with demand from within China.
Here, however, there is one “but”. Inevitably, the government will begin to favor its own aircraft manufacturer. True, until the necessary scale is reached, Airbus will continue to increase its advantage.