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New plane reaches for the sky

2010-11-16 09:08

Commercial airliner set to take on industry giants Boeing and Airbus

ZHUHAI, Guangdong - The official unveiling of the C919 prototype, China's first large commercial airliner, on Monday has enhanced the nation's ability to compete with the industry's giants, Boeing and Airbus, in the global aviation market.

The Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC), the aircraft's producer, did not disclose the names of the C919's first customers, but said three major State-owned airlines are expected to sign agreements on Tuesday at the biannual China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province.

COMAC has estimated a demand for 2,000 C919 planes in the domestic and overseas markets, said Wu Guanghui, chief designer of the single-aisle plane and COMAC vice-president.

The C919 prototype - 17 meters long, 5.6 meters tall and 3.96 meters wide - is on public display after two years of research.

The Shanghai-based company's regional aircraft, the ARJ21-700, of which China owns the intellectual property rights, will also take to the skies at the air show.

Upon certification from regulators, the C919 will be delivered to buyers in 2016, while the ARJ21-700 is scheduled to be approved in the fourth quarter of next year, the company said.

The pending purchases from the big three State-owned carriers will dampen prospects for overseas suppliers in a market Boeing expects to be worth $480 billion through 2029.

"The aircraft will provide another option for air travelers," Wu said.

The entry of the Chinese aircraft into the global civil aviation market might have an intermediate effect on the industry, said Shane Tedjarati, president and CEO, Honeywell China and India. He believes that global growth allows enough room for plane makers.

"China is the only other continental economy with a national will, the muscle and the capacity and all the other ingredients that are needed to create what happened in Europe and the United States 30 years ago," Tedjarati said. "China is going to build the third leg of the aerospace industry after North America and Europe.

"People are still buying Boeing and Airbus" but this development is good news for the market, he said.

The C919 has established a close working relationship with nine domestic fuselage suppliers and 17 leading international suppliers, and it has set up 14 joint ventures with international suppliers and domestic enterprises.

The birth of the nation's first large commercial aircraft comes at a time of growth in the aviation industry with domestic airlines set to place more orders.

According to Boeing's forecasts, China will need 4,330 new aircraft over the next 20 years with the fleet expanding to three times its current size to become the largest market outside the US.

But the Chinese aircraft industry is still in a weak position in terms of scale and numbers, said Zhang Hongying, director-general of the department of aircraft airworthiness certification at China's General Administration of Civil Aviation.

Of 1,636 registered civil aircraft, only 18 are homegrown, he said.

Zhang said the government is encouraging leasing and purchasing China-made aircraft by mapping out favorable policies.

A large aircraft has been the goal of China's industrial planners for decades. The C919 will go head-to-head with the popular Boeing 737 and Airbus A320.

Airbus earlier this month announced an order from China for 102 planes, including 50 A320s. Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines, the nation's biggest carriers, all placed orders.

Boeing won many 737 orders this year from Air China, Okay Airways and Xiamen Airlines.

Aviation is one of a dozen or so areas of advanced technology, including renewable energy, in which China intends to become a global player.

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