A-B-C, one-two-three… With this simple line you are basically looking at the future of large commercial aicrafts: Airbus, Boeing and soon Comac hope to share equally the market for 170-190 seater aircrafts.
The C919 – the number 9 stands for long-lasting – will be produced by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China. Comac was set up in 2008 to develop a large Chinese airplaine. It already markets the ARJ21, the country’s first regional jet. This time the focus is a bit different since the aim is not to conquer the domestic market but to compete with the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 on international markets.
Akin to what happens in many other industries, the aim is to develop a new aircraft with as much Chinese intellectual property as possible. So far, a lot is borrowed from technologies developed abroad. For instance, the ARJ21 is built using tooling originally provided by McDonnell Douglas. Likewise the C919 will benefit from European and American technologies as Safran (a French company) and GE have entered a JV agreement to build the engine.
So will the C919 seal the end of the duopoly? Not in the short term at least. In the first years Comac’s production capacity will hardly be able to serve the growing demand for domestic aircrafts – it expects to sell 2000 units over 20 years with an estimated demand of 4000 planes for the same period. In addition, the first pilot flight is scheduled for 2014 and the commercial version is expected in 2016.
So, it will probably take a bit longer until Air France or British Airways order their first C919!