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Nation
C919, Made in China
Jetliner is the first of many to be produced domestically
By Yin Pumin | NO. 47 NOVEMBER 19, 2015

 

The C919 aircraft rolls off the assembly line in Shanghai on November 2  (XINHUA)

China's first homemade large passenger jet made its debut at a grand ceremony in Shanghai on November 2. Amid applause and cheers, the narrow-body C919, developed by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), was rolled out fresh off the production line.

At the event which was immersed in a festive atmosphere, Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, stated that "China's air transport industry cannot completely rely on imports." He added that "a great nation must have its own large commercial aircraft."

According to official statistics, the passenger capacity of the twin-engine and single-aisle C919 ranges from 158 in a two-class layout to 168 in all-economy mode and 174 in a high-density arrangement. It has a standard flight range of about 4,075 km while an extended version is capable of flying 5,555 km without refueling.

Since it was launched in 2008, the C919 project has shouldered the Chinese people's hopes of progressing the nation's status in the international aviation market. The aircraft is expected to break the duopoly of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 in the narrow-body jetline market.

According to figures released by Airbus earlier this year, China will become the leading country for both domestic and international passenger air traffic in the next decade. The country is projected to require more than 5,300 new commercial aircraft from 2014 to 2033. This amounts to 17 percent of the world's total demand, with a total market value of $820 billion in the next 20 years.

Sky-high significance

The development of the C919 is one of several initiatives launched by China to further develop high-end manufacturing.

Then Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang said in 2009 that the development of large-scale jetliners is part of a strategic decision by the Chinese Government and one of the major programs for building up an innovation-oriented economy.

According to Chen Yingchun, deputy chief designer of the C919, the aircraft's design and development involved more than 200 different component manufacturers and research teams with 36 higher-learning institutions from 22 provinces and municipalities from across China. More than 200,000 technicians participated in the production cycle. Its suppliers of materials and equipment included some of China's largest companies.

He said that all the major parts of the plane were designed, tested and manufactured in China.

"The plane was assembled in China and the maintenance will also be completed by Chinese firms," Chen noted.

Meanwhile, international cooperation is also an important part of the design and assembly process of the C919. More than 30 foreign firms including General Electric and Honeywell of the United States have also supplied components for the project. Furthermore, 16 joint ventures have been set up to help manufacture the plane. For instance, the CFM LEAP-1C engine is sourced from CFM International Inc., a joint venture between GE Aviation, a division of General Electric, and Snecma, a division of Safran, a French multinational based in Paris.

"The aircraft uses the very best of domestic and foreign resources, and was designed and made in accordance with international standards," said Wu Guanghui, chief designer of the C919 and Deputy General Manager of the COMAC, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Many new materials and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques have been used on the C919, which makes the aircraft superior to the planes it would compete against, including the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320.

COMAC Chairman Jin Zhuanglong revealed that the aircraft featured 102 new applications of technology and materials.

"The plane is more advanced compared to the current operating aircraft of the same size," said Chen Jin, Sales Chief of the COMAC. "It consumes between 12 percent and 15 percent less fuel, and helps reduce carbon emissions."

Wu attributed the plane's higher fuel efficiency to the use of new, lightweight carbon composites rather than steel.

However, the new materials and advanced manufacturing techniques also make the project more complex and risky, and it will take longer to test safety and reliability.

Jin said that six C919 jets would be put through vigorous test flights with a focus on avionics, flight controls, hydraulics and airborne systems.

With its maiden voyage scheduled for 2016, Jin said that the C919 is likely to go into commercial service by 2019.

In his congratulatory message for the development of the C919, President Xi Jinping outlined the necessity of well-thought-out planning for its first flight.

Earlier, China's first airliner independently designed in accordance with international standards, the ARJ21-700 regional jet, underwent six years of grueling tests before it was awarded airworthiness accreditation in 2014.

Wu predicted that the airworthiness testing process for the C919 would be easier as his company has become increasingly experienced in related procedures.

Marketing potentials

"The successful assembly of the C919 greatly enhanced the confidence of domestic aviation manufacturers to compete with those foreign aircraft giants," the C919's deputy chief designer Chen said.

According to a COMAC statement, the C919 has already received a total of 517 orders from 21 Chinese and foreign airlines, including German and Thai clients.

In June, Ping An Leasing, a subsidiary of Ping An Insurance Co., signed an accord to purchase 50 of the C919 aircraft during the 51st International Paris Air Show.

The company said in a press release that the deal was a strategic move to expand its aircraft leasing business and realize greater scale and brand operations of its business.

In the development of the C919's overseas market, ICBC Financial Leasing Co., China's largest financial leasing company, is playing an important role. As the plane's largest individual commissioning client, the company has already placed 45 orders. It has also signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the COMAC in September.

In the same month, City Airways, based in Thailand, signed an option for 10 C919 aircraft through ICBC Leasing. According to the leasing company's chairman, Cong Lin, many other foreign airlines are mulling over similar contracts with his company.

Jiang Bo, director of aviation finance at the leasing company, believes its established network of more than 40 overseas clients across six continents will prove helpful in promoting the C919 globally.

Meanwhile, many industry insiders have also suggested that the COMAC pursue a more active global marketing strategy and speed up the building of service networks in order to achieve its development ambitions.

Quick Facts About C919

Its passenger capacity ranges from 158 in a two-class layout to 168 in all-economy mode and 174 in a high-density arrangement.

It has a standard flight range of about 4,075 km and an extended version is capable of flying 5,555 km without refueling.

Its economic life is designed to be 90,000 flying hours/30 calendar years.

Its design and development involved more than 200 aircraft component manufacturers and research teams with 36 higher-learning institutions from 22 provinces and municipalities across China. More than 200,000 technicians participated in the production cycle.

It has already received a total of 517 orders from 21 Chinese and foreign airlines, including German and Thai clients.

(Compiled by Beijing Review )

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan

Comments to yinpumin@bjreview.com

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