China-made passenger plane makes international debut

(CNN) — Beijing’s C919 airliner, a potential rival to Western-made Boeing and Airbus, made its first foray outside Chinese territory on Sunday, flying over the Singapore Air Show.

The single-aisle aircraft, built by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), is a key symbol of Beijing’s broader “Made in China” strategy, which aims to reduce reliance on foreign manufacturers.

The C919 is the first large Chinese-made aircraft with a capacity of less than 200 passengers. The plane made its first commercial flight last May. It can only carry passengers within mainland China and flies with China Eastern Airlines.

“This is the first time that we will have exhibitors from China,” Cindy Koh, executive vice-president of the Singapore Economic Development Council, one of the air show organizers, told reporters on Sunday.

China has made no secret of its ambition to compete with Boeing and Airbus. The C919’s overseas debut comes at a time when Boeing is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Last month, a portion of the fuselage of a Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft broke off during an Air Alaska flight in the United States.

Shukor Yusof, founder of Endow Analytics, a company that tracks the aviation industry, said the C919 would be “the most scrutinized aircraft at the Singapore Airshow”, an event that attracts business executives and senior executives from around the world.

“There’s a lot of interest in seeing the aircraft, how it works and what it’s like in flight,” he said.

C919 in flight.  (Credit: Edgar Su/Reuters)

C919 in flight. (Credit: Edgar Su/Reuters)

Currently, only a few countries manufacture their own aircraft due to very high barriers to entry in this sector. It requires a high level of technical knowledge as well as a huge amount of time and resources.

For example, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, the C919 has cost its sponsor approximately $49 billion in development, manufacturing and other costs, although it says it is difficult to determine exactly how much it cost. Because its financial condition is opaque.

In December, it made a demonstration flight in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, its first trip outside mainland China.

According to Yusuf, rising tensions between Beijing and Washington will also make it difficult for COMAC to find markets in the West.

“You can’t avoid all the politics with China and the rest of the world and this signal will stay with them for a long time,” he said.

The model has not yet been certified by US and European aviation regulators, which Yusof says is “a huge disadvantage.”

Capable of flying for five to six hours, the C919 is perfect for regional travel, he said, adding that it has the potential to attract countries in Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia, which are more politically friendly to China. .

“It will become a smaller competitor, but it won’t be in the same league as Airbus and Boeing,” he said.

Last year, Indonesian low-cost airline TransNusa became COMAC’s first foreign customer, acquiring the ARJ21, a regional aircraft with a capacity of less than 100 passengers.

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