COMAC’s C919: China’s First Passenger Airplane rivaling Boeing & Airbus

COMAC’s C919: China’s First Passenger Airplane rivaling Boeing & Airbu

In a landmark achievement, China has successfully built their first passenger airliner. Although we primarily focus on the Digital Yuan on this blog, milestones such as these that could spell out great leaps for China’s currency in the international business arena, should not go without acknowledgement. 

As a new player in air travel, China’s C919 has the potential to become a global competitor and could greatly change the landscape of the international aviation industry in the next 20 years. Thereby, making significant shifts in the worldwide business landscape. A project spearheaded by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), the development program for the C919 began in 2008.

On the 14th of May, 2022, the C919 completed a 3-hour test flight, prompting that the aircraft is quickly becoming market-ready. 

All About China’s C919

China’s first large passenger aircraft developed by COMAC, is a narrow-bodied airliner arranged along a single aisle. There would be 28 rows of seats in the aircraft, with 6 seats per row, with the capacity to seat a total of 168 passengers. The craft is 38.9m in length, and 11.95m in height. The fuselage is 3.96m wide and 4.16m high.

COMAC plans to build 5 other models of the C919 that could include business jets, freighters, and shrunk passenger aircrafts.

The C919 is being built in a COMAC owned assembly plant in Shanghai. It is being designed and developed using mostly Chinese built parts.The plane’s airframe is constructed out of Aluminium alloy, with the center wing box made with carbon fiber composites.

The C919 is powered by two CFM International LEAP-1C engines. Each of the engines have a thrust ranging between 25,000lbs-30,000lbs. CFM International is a joint venture between US’s General Electric (GE) and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines. Nexcelle provides the nacelles, exhaust systems, and thrust reversers. GE Aviation’s Middle River Aircraft Systems and Safran Nacelles together form Nexecelle.

The fuselage and wings are manufactured in China. The center fuselage sections are manufactured in Hongdu. The C919 ailerons and flaps, wing-panels, and center and outer wing boxes are currently produced in Xi’an.

Eaton Corporation in association with Shanghai Aviation Electric was granted the contract for the C919’s cockpit panel assemblies and dimming control system in July of 2010.

The communication and navigation systems for the aircraft are developed through a joint venture between Rockwell Collins and China Electronics Technology Avionics (ETCA). The contract for it was settled in October 2012.

The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) in conjunction with GE develops the avionics system for the C919. The avionics will consist of on-board maintenance and core processing systems.

C919’s tyres are provided by Michelin. The company was contracted to supply Air X Radial Tyres for the aircraft’s build. The Honeywell-Boyun Aero Systems (HBAS), a joint venture between Hunan Boyun New Materials Co. Ltd. and Honeywell, manufactures carbon brakes for the wheels, tires, and braking package. HBAS is located in Changsha, Hunan Province and was established in 2012.

The Fly-By-Wire (FBW) flight control electronics package for the C919 aircraft is provided through a joint venture between the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s Flight Automatic Control Research Institute and Honeywell called HonFei. The joint venture has been active since December 2013.

COMAC has established many strategic business partnerships with companies in China and abroad to deliver a viable and efficient passenger aircraft.

What’s Special About C919?

COMAC’s C919 is a home-grown passenger airplane that may one day break the Airbus-Boeing duopoly in the international market for large passenger aircrafts. 

China is among the few countries around the world that has managed to build their own large airliner. Other nations that have succeeded so far are the United States, Russia, Canada, Brazil, UK, France, and Germany. 

As China’s first self-developed trunk jetliner, the C919 has a range of 4,075KM-5,555KM.
In May 2017, it made a successful maiden flight. Since 2019, more ground and flight tests were carried out on 6 C919 jets in Shanghai, Dongying, Nanchang, and Yangliang. In November 2020, the C919 finally received its type inspection authorization.

Problems Faced and Overcome During C919’s Development

One of the main accusations thrown the way of COMAC’s C919 is that it cannot be considered “indigenously built” in China if a number of its components are sourced from non-chinese companies. However, it must be understood that this is the standard across the aircraft manufacturing industry.

Nearly 70% of Boeing’s production is outsourced, and nearly 30% of aircraft parts are foreign made. This allows the company to produce more aircrafts faster. In modern manufacturing, all raw-materials and supplies needed for the production of goods cannot realistically be locally sourced every time. So, several components of Boeing’s crafts are produced in China, and other parts of Asia. However, in essence, Boeing remains very much American-made.

The Chinese C919 deserves similar respect. A noteworthy amount the aircraft is manufactured with Chinese-made parts and Chinese labor.

Moving forward, COMAC plans to source more airplane components from within China. There are promising signs of this happening as well.

In 2021, the ACAE CJ-1000A, or the Chang Jiang 1000A, China’s first commercial aerial engine was unveiled at the Zhuhai Air Show. It is a high-bypass turbofan jet engine developed by the Aero Engine Corporation of China (AECC)- a manufacturer of military aircraft engines. Days after C919’s promising 3-hour test flight, the AC313A, a 13 ton-class multipurpose large helicopter made its maiden flight from Lümeng Airport in Jingdezhen.

Another major issue was faced during the development of the C919. In February 2020, then US President Donald Trump decided to halt shipments of CFM Jet Engines to China. By December 2020, American companies required special licenses to export parts and technology to any company that was affiliated with the Chinese Military. Soon however, the shipments of CFM Engines to China resumed, and US suppliers began receiving necessary licenses to work with relevant Chinese companies.

The situation was mostly resolved, however, it did prompt China to stay prepared for similar situations in the future. 

What COMAC’s Success Could Mean for Business and the Digital Yuan?

By 2024, China is forecast to overtake the US as the world’s largest aviation market. In the next 15 years, China plans to build over 200 new airports and expand several existing ones.

Chinese airlines are likely to spend at least $1 Trillion on new aircrafts in the next decade and a half, according to Boeing.

Given the likelihood of COMAC’s C919 to gain domestic consumer trust, it maybe able to procure a significant share of China’s lucrative domestic aviation market within the coming decades.

In addition to this, China already supplies parts to several Russian aircraft manufacturers- another likely new major player in international aircraft manufacturing.

China is currently the world’s largest trading partner. Trust in China’s discipline regarding international trade relations, and the PRC’s competitive advantage to produce high quality passenger jets more economically than their contenders, is bound to garner solid global consumer interest in the C919.

This said, the likelihood of China’s booming aviation business to add billions more in cross-border Yuan transaction value is a given at this point – the global market value for aircraft manufacturing was almost $ 413. 51 Billion in 2021 alone.

As we discussed in a previous Digital Yuan Now post, the Yuan’s rise as a global reserve currency is going to establish the E-CNY as the go-to choice for cross-border payments to and from China. 

E-CNY payments are particularly attractive especially when it comes to global aircraft manufacturing because of its potential to facilitate bilateral cross-border financial transactions that could override sanctions

Given the high dependence of airplane manufacturers on the global supply chain, international sanctions are a particularly frightening topic.

Once the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) approves the Digital Yuan for cross-border use, it is likely to be a most welcome choice for foreign trade transactions with China.

On the 14th of May 2022, China’s own home-grown large passenger jet, COMAC’s C919, made a successful 3 Hour, 2 minute test flight from Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport.
Pilots and engineers who completed operations surrounding C919’s flight, concluded that the aircraft was fully functional and in flight-worthy condition.

Watch COMAC’s C919 Take Off Here

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