China certifies its C919 passenger aircraft
China held a ceremony Thursday to certify its C919 narrow-body airliner, marking a major milestone in the Asian giant’s ambitions to challenge Airbus and Boeing in commercial aerospace.
The plane, produced by state-owned manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC), had been widely expected to be certified by the end of the month after two aircraft flew to Beijing on Sept. 13, Reuters reported.
The C919, launched 14 years ago and designed to carry up to 168 passengers, will compete against the popular Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX families in the world’s second-biggest aviation market as China looks to boost its technological self-reliance amid trade tensions.
Although the plane is assembled in China, it relies heavily on Western components, including engines and avionics, from companies including GE, Safran and Honeywell International.
Tough U.S. export licensing rules have led to delays in sourcing parts and remain a key risk to ramped up production until China replaces foreign engines and components with homegrown technology.
“So, we have an aircraft that is only superficially Chinese, but is actually powered by Western technologies and systems. To turn it into a true Chinese aircraft would take more than a decade and many billions of dollars,” said Richard Aboulafia, CEO of AeroDynamic Advisory.
The type of certificate granted on Thursday means it can be delivered to the first customer, China Eastern Airlines, though local media have reported the plane is unlikely to enter commercial service with passengers until next year.
The C919 has never made an appearance at the country’s premier aviation event, Airshow China and it is unclear whether it will be on display or flown at the show in November.
COMAC will also need a separate production certificate before it can ramp up mass production of the plane, meaning its impact on the global aircraft market could remain limited given Airbus and Boeing produce dozens of narrowbodies a month.
The C919 has received 815 orders from 28 customers, according to COMAC’s website. But China Eastern is the only customer that has announced a firm delivery schedule and expects to receive only four next year.
Plataforma Informativa de Aviación Comercial líder en América Latina.