C919 Jet Is First Made-In-China Passenger Jetliner, Will Compete With Airbus A320 And Boeing 737 Series

China unveiled C919, the country’s first indigenously-built passenger jet. A state-owned manufacturer recently rolled the passenger jet off the assembly line, and the plane is expected to enter commercial service within the next three years.

The Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) unveiled the first unit of C919, a made-in-China commercial jetliner. The twin-engine plane’s unveiling was attended by government officials and other dignitaries at a hangar near Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. The plane marks the entry of the Chinese manufacturer in the highly exclusive club of airplane manufacturing. To date, Boeing and Airbus have been the only two players that have been considered by airlines when they wanted large capacity commercial airplanes for their fleet.

The C919 jet is built to seat anywhere between 154 to 178 passengers. There are no specifications available at this time, and it’s unclear how fuel efficient the twin engines are. However, the C919 is one of several parallel projects announced in the last decade by the ruling Communist Party. China’s administration intends to transform the country into a creator of profitable technology in aviation, clean energy, and other fields, reported MSN.

The single-aisle C919 jet, which is likely to be priced at just $50 million, has been built to compete with Airbus’ A320 and Boeing Co.’s 737, reported the Daily Mail. COMAC claims it already has confirmed orders from 21 customers to deliver a total of 517 aircraft. Granted, the majority of those orders are from regional Chinese domestic carriers, but the company did confirm one of the customers was GE Capital Aviation Services. The majority of airlines that operate in China are state-owned. The companies are expected to fill their fleet with the C919 jets before looking elsewhere, ensuring the plane has a healthy delivery schedule for a long time to come. Incidentally, GE Aviation Systems, in association with AVIC, a state-owned Chinese military contractor, supplied the C919’s core processing and display system.

Boeing estimates that China’s internal or regional carriers alone will need almost 6,000 planes over the next 20 years. From a financial perspective, the C919 alone could have a market of almost $800 billion.

While the C919 jet may be the country’s first indigenously-built commercial passenger jet, another state-owned company recently unveiled a smaller jet that would compete with Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier. Dubbed the ARJ-21, the smaller jet has already started commercial production, and two units are already in service. The jets primarily fly on select routes, but the company has received orders for over 300 units. The jet can accommodate between 70 to 105 passengers depending on the internal configuration and seating arrangement. Interestingly, the company also has a luxury business version that can accommodate about 20 passengers.

The C919 jet may be built in China, but it did require external suppliers for most of its critical systems, including engine and avionics. The country managed to secure the technology through Western companies or foreign-Chinese joint ventures. Interestingly, industry experts indicated that the made-in-China label could be the jet’s biggest limitation. This is because companies like Boeing and Airbus rely on suppliers across the globe for components, which ensures their jets are built quicker with a lot less investment. On the other hand, China mandates that all the components that go into C919 jet are sourced from regional suppliers only.

However, given the fact that China is still the backend manufacturing country for many global companies, it won’t have many problems sourcing the components at competitive rates, ensuring the C919 jets don’t remain on the assembly line for long and the customer waiting period is relatively short.

The C919 jet may be considered an achievement by China, especially in a market dominated by Boeing and Airbus. However, the ambitious project has suffered significant delays. But now that the production is streamlined, will made-in-China jets soon crowd the skies?

[Photo by ChinaFotoPress / Getty Images]