New China Aircraft Aiming for Big Impact

In an effort to compete with some of the world’s leading aircraft, China introduced its first large passenger aircraft in Shanghai on Monday.

The C919, made by Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), is expected to begin flying in 2016 and be commercially available after three years of test flights. China plans for the narrow-body, single-aisle plane to be part of efforts to rely on fewer foreign imports in its huge domestic market. Comac was constructed to compete with Boeing 737 and Airbus, which still dominate sales despite having somewhat dated designs.

The country’s market grew by 11 percent in the first quarter of 2015 as China aircraft made some 650,000 daily flights.

The C919 was scheduled to fly by the end of this year, but Comac said in July that it would be pushed back for unspecified reasons. The C919 is the company’s second aircraft project, following the ARJ21 regional, which was plagued by several delays in attempts to be certified as airworthy.

Most of Comac’s 500-plus orders for the C919 are from airlines such as Air China and China Eastern, although 20 planes reportedly have been ordered by U.S.-based GE Capital Aviation Services, which leases planes to airlines.

Some industry experts are less than optimistic about Comac’s chances. After RAND Corporation did a study in 2014 that included the C919, one of its directors, Keith Crane, noted the company’s repeated certification failures.

John Leahy, chief operating office for Airbus, says he expects Comac to eventually be a serious competitor, and account for 17 percent of the world’s total aircraft within the next 20 years.

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