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Bigger plane should fly higher


Winton Dong

  | Editor: Jane Chen  | From:  | Updated: 2017-07-17

Email of the writer: dht0620@126.com

IN mid-June this year, the Commercial Aircraft Corp. Ltd. of China (COMAC), the manufacturer of China’s first homemade large passenger plane the C919, got another 30 orders from Everbright Financial Leasing Co. Ltd., lifting its total orders from home and abroad to 600.

By analyzing figures published by COMAC itself, we got to know that among all its 24 clients, 23 are from China, mainly domestic airlines and financial leasing companies under various banks.

GE Capital Aviation Service is so far the only foreign client with 20 orders. As far as we know, GE is an important shareholder of CFM International Jet Engines Co., the company which provides LEAP turbofan engines for the C919.

The C919 just made its maiden flight on May 5 this year, and though COMAC has not yet released the price tag of the jet, insiders predict that it is likely to be priced at US$50 million. The total R&D investment for the C919 was about US$20 billion, which means that the break-even point of the new jet is 400 orders. Frankly speaking, 600 orders are a very good achievement for a newborn commercial plane and it makes profitability for the large Chinese commercial plane project a certainty.

The narrow-body C919 has 158 seats and a designed range of up to 5,555 km. Its debut is considered by Chinese media as a great breakthrough in the history of the country’s civil aviation industry as well as the start of a new chapter in China’s high-end equipment manufacturing. It is obvious that the gigantic Chinese aviation market will be the main target for the new passenger jet. According to estimates, 3,000 more commercial planes of this size will be added in China during the 15 years from 2017 to 2032. If the C919 makes up one-third of the market, that would mean 1,000 orders. If its market share can reach 50 percent, sales will be as high as 1,500.

The central leadership of China has recently emphasized the integration of military and civil sectors. Besides the gigantic civil aviation market in China, the C919 can also grasp such a wonderful chance to show its cutting-edge technology in the military arena. For example, in the United States, the E-3, E-8 and some other types of military airborne early warning aircraft are all made and reshaped from Boeing 707s and 737s. With its low fuel consumption and high-flying altitude, it is not so difficult a task for the C919 to be adapted to cater to the demands of the Chinese air force in the future.

With the successful development of the C919, China has become the fourth large passenger jet producer after the United States, Western Europe and Russia. Despite the fact that the Chinese market is enormous enough to accommodate the production of the C919 and guarantee its long-term profit, the Chinese plane should aim higher and enter into the global aviation market as a strong competitor. According to a recent forecast by Airbus, in the next 20 years, global passenger air traffic will increase annually at 4.6 percent, driving a need for about 32,600 new aircraft all over the world.

Price and quality are two of the most important factors which decide the competitiveness of a plane in the international market. In terms of price, a C919 plane is about US$50 million, which is up to 30 percent cheaper than its main Western competitors the Boeing 737 and Airbus 320.

As for its quality, the Chinese aircraft is due to go through a series of test flights for three years before being put into commercial use. To ensure the quality of its products, COMAC has applied strict evaluation standards on all its suppliers, and every detail of the tests will be verified. However, the quality of the C919 will be further tested and appraised by its consumers and users after delivery.

No matter how competitive the C919 is in terms of price and quality, earning a global air-worthiness certificate is the precondition for the Chinese passenger jet to enter into the international market. Premier Li Keqiang is himself a great promoter of the C919. While meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany last month, he specially called on the European country to help China’s large plane to get such a certificate from the EU.

(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)