Aerospace & Defense

Chinese Maker Shows Off First Jet to Compete With Boeing, Airbus

Following years of delays, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, aka Comac, rolled out its first new large passenger jet Monday morning. Literally. The plane, dubbed the C919, was towed from its hangar past a crowd of guests and journalists and out onto the tarmac.

The C919 is a single-aisle, narrow-body jet designed to compete with the 737 family from Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) and the Airbus A320 family. The new plane was announced in 2009 and originally scheduled for first deliveries in 2016. That schedule has fallen by the wayside, with test flights scheduled to begin next year and expected to last two or three years. Comac is targeting entry into service for 2018 or 2019.

Comac’s first plane, a regional jet called the ARJ21 is scheduled to begin service early in 2016. The 90-seat plane was originally scheduled for entry into service by 2006.

The C919 will seat 158 to 174 passengers and uses two LEAP-1C engines from CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) and French engine maker Snecma, a division of France’s Safran. Variants of that engine, the LEAP-1A and the LEAP-1B, are available as options for the Airbus A320neo family and the Boeing 737 MAX family, respectively.

Comac has taken orders for 517 of the new planes, among which is a 2010 order for 10 from GE’s aircraft leasing service, GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS).

This past summer, Boeing updated its 20-year market outlook and forecast Chinese demand for 6,330 new planes at a total cost of $950 billion over the 20-year period to 2034. Of that total, 4,630 are narrow-body jets with an estimated dollar value of around $490 billion. How many of those planes will be C919s is anybody’s guess, but virtually all the early demand for the plane is expected to come from China.

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Airbus has operated a China-based final assembly plant for its A320s since 2009 and said recently that it has committed to opening a similar facility for its wide-body planes. Boeing also has announced that it will open its first final assembly plant in China in a partnership with Comac.

China’s CCTV has a video of the C919’s rollout.