Wednesday, September 28, 2022

‘Mission Aviation’ – China Unveils Competitor To Boeing 737, A320; Tests 1st Pre-Delivery Flight Of C919 Aircraft

China’s first home-built C919 aircraft flew its first pre-delivery test flight in Shanghai. This puts the company (COMAC) one inch closer to offering a viable alternative to Boeing’s 737 and Airbus’ A320 single-aisle commercial aircraft.

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The aircraft took off at 6:52 a.m. and landed back at 9:54 a.m. at Shanghai International Pudong Airport. The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) said on Saturday that the test went successfully and that the aircraft was in good shape, reported Chinese media.

“This marked a successful test flight of the first C919 plane ahead of its delivery to the first customer. The flight test completed all the scheduled tasks, and the aircraft performed well and was in good condition,” COMAC said.

Comac C919 - Wikipedia
Comac C919 – Wikipedia

A successful test flight is a positive thing for COMAC. The company claimed to have secured 28 worldwide client orders for up to 815 C919 planes. COMAC vice general manager Wu Yongliang stated earlier this year that the plane would be delivered to the customer in 2022.

In March 2021, China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai’s hometown carrier, signed a contract to purchase five C919 aircraft at a catalog price of $99 million apiece. According to the airline, the new planes would be deployed on domestic routes from Shanghai to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Chengdu. 

The latest flight also demonstrated Shanghai’s determination to restore business activity after putting the city under lockdown since April 1.  

To get the aircraft to its flight-ready stage, up to 3,000 COMAC employees worked under “closed-loop” circumstances, according to the manufacturer. That required them to take daily testing for Covid-19 and sleep on-site to ensure no contact with outsiders. 

A Boost For China’s Aviation Sector? 

Following the commencement of production in December 2011, the first C919 prototype rolled off the assembly line in November 2015 and flew for the first time over Shanghai in May 2017. 

The plane has a range of 4,075 to 5,555 kilometers (2,532 to 3,452 miles) and can carry 158 to 168 passengers based on cabin arrangement. The plane might be configured with an all-economic cabin or a multi-class configuration with the economy, business, or another premium seat, according to numerous mockups.

C919-Components
C919-Components

The aircraft’s development has been difficult for the company, which had wanted to have the twin jet on the market by 2016. Years of technical difficulties and supply constraints, however, slowed the whole progress.

The development process was specifically hampered by Trump Administration restrictions imposed in 2020, which barred imports of things like aircraft controls and other components.

According to research by the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, DC, about 60% of the C919 parts are provided by American corporations. Therefore, Comac was obliged to rely on special licensing from entities like General Electric and Honeywell to secure the parts it wanted for the jet.

Boeing-777X cockpit
File Image: The cockpit of the Boeing-777X. (via Twitter)

In addition to political and technical difficulties, the business also failed to obtain local certification for the C919 from China’s aviation authority, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), by the end of 2021. It is currently hoping for certification in 2022. 

CFM LEAP-1C engines, developed by General Electric in collaboration with Safran, currently power the C919 aircraft. The A320 and 737 families use the same engines. On the other hand, China hopes to someday replace the plane’s engine with its own, reducing its reliance on foreign technology.

Nevertheless, China is one of the fastest-growing civil aviation markets in the world. The C919 is the country’s bold effort to build its first commercial airliner to meet growing demands. 

The project’s success would be financially advantageous to China. It will provide it the ability to shatter the country’s reliance on the duopoly currently held by Boeing and Airbus. Furthermore, it will also propel Comac into the multibillion-dollar aviation market.

C919, along with other technological achievements, was emphasized by President Xi Jinping in his 2017 report to China’s legislature during the 19th National Congress as a driver of China’s “new model of development.” 

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