After 15 years in development, China’s first-ever large homegrown airliner has finally made its maiden commercial flight, in a development that Western rivals Boeing and Airbus are sure to be keeping their eyes on.
Unlike many other heavy industries where China has become a dominant force – such as the auto industry or shipbuilding – China has lagged behind the West when it comes to producing planes, specifically commercial airliners.
That’s all set to change, however, with the locally-produced Comac C919 having finally made its first commercial flight on Sunday.
Produced by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (or Comac for short), the C919 is designed to rival Boeing’s 737 MAX and Airbus’ A320neo single-aisle jet families – and indeed, has an exceedingly similar design to the older Airbus A320.
The Boeing 737, of course, is the most produced aircraft in commercial aviation, with 10,877 planes delivered to airlines around the world (including multiple Chinese airlines) as of December 2021.
In service with China Eastern Airlines, the initial customer for the jet, the maiden revenue flight from Shanghai to Beijing went off without a hitch, carrying over 130 passengers including a number of aviation enthusiasts.
The commercial operation of the C919 marks a milestone in the country’s hopes that the plane will break the longtime Airbus-Boeing duopoly in the world’s airline manufacturing industry, Reuters reports.
“After generations of endeavour, we finally broke the West’s aviation monopoly and rid ourselves of the humiliation of ’800 million shirts for one Boeing’,” Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the Beijing municipal committee of the Chinese Communist Party, said.
Those ‘generations of endeavour’, however, have been marred by accusations of industrial espionage. Four people have been arrested and one Chinese national has been prosecuted in the US as a result of investigations into the theft of trade secrets.
WATCH China Eastern share an exclusive look inside the world’s first Comec C919 below.
Additionally, while the C919 has been designed and will be produced locally in China, it heavily relies on foreign firms for essential components such as its engines, fuel systems, tyres, landing gear and weather radar.
That said, the successful flight marks a turning point for the global aviation industry, which will now have to contend with China as a major player in the commercial airliner business.
As Air Data News put it, “the debut of the C919 is worrying news for Airbus and especially Boeing. If the jet is even minimally successful, future orders for the A320neo and 737 MAX will certainly become increasingly rare in China.”
That said, death knells aren’t sounding for Boeing and Airbus just yet.
As of publishing, Comac claims they’ve received 1,200 orders in total for the C919, but we understand that there are no active foreign orders for the plane.
The only foreign airline interested in the C919 was Thailand’s City Airways, which signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to lease ten C919s back in 2015 – but as the airline went bust in 2016, those orders have been cancelled.
Additionally, neither European nor US regulators have certificated the C919, meaning we’re unlikely to see the C919 outside of Chinese airspace for a while yet.
Still, it’s a paradigm shift… Watch this space.