China shows off C919 rival to Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 Max

In December last year, China presented the C919, its first domestically produced airplane. On Tuesday, China’s largest passenger aircraft will be shown internationally for the first time at Singapore Airshow.

With the C919, Beijing aims to compete with Airbus and Boeing, the world’s two leading aircraft manufacturers, while becoming less dependent on foreign technologies.

A competitor to A320 and 737 Max

The single-aisle C919 is a potential competitor to the A320, the world’s best-selling plane, from Europe’s Airbus and US Boeing’s 737 MAX, which is going through a difficult period due to several production problems with the 737.

Development of the aircraft began in 2008, but it only received official flight certification last year. The plane has been flying commercially in China since May. During the six-day event in Singapore, Asia’s biggest air show, it should attract buyers outside China.

‘Not if, but when’

According to aviation analyst Shukor Yusof of Singapore-based consultancy Endau Analytics, finding a buyer quickly from major airlines will be difficult. ‘Made-in-China’ is still stigmatized in the aviation industry, even though China is now the world leader in the EV market.

The C919 is built by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC). It is also present in Singapore with its ARJ21, a smaller and older twin-engine regional aircraft with 158-192 seats.

But with Airbus and Boeing struggling to step up production and meet demand for new planes, the C919 has a solid opportunity to gain market share, particularly in its domestic market. “It will take some time before the C919 is ordered by a major airline,” says Yusof, although “the question is when, not if, a major airline will buy a commercial airplane made in China.”

EASA will be pursued

Over three to five years, COMAC will invest tens of billions of yuan to expand C919 production capacity. China’s aviation authority would also pursue this year’s European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) validation for the C919.

According to aviation data provider Cirium, last year, about 42% of China’s more than 4 million scheduled domestic flights used Boeing airplanes, and 54% used planes made by Airbus. COMAC also relies heavily on European and US suppliers to produce the C919.

Over 1,000 companies from the aerospace and defense sectors participate in the show, which takes place every two years. Organizers expect the show to attract 50,000 trade visitors worldwide, close to the pre-pandemic level.

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