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Comac C919 Takes to the Skies in Its First Scheduled Passenger Service  

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China’s aviation industry has reached a significant milestone as the Comac C919, manufactured by Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) a medium-haul aircraft developed to challenge the dominance of Airbus and Boeing, successfully completed its inaugural commercial flight.

On December 9, 2022, China Eastern Airlines received the first C919 in a grand ceremony, ushering in a new era for Chinese aviation. However, the aircraft did not immediately enter commercial service, and the airline had initially planned to commence regular flights from the end of February.

Nevertheless, the long-awaited moment finally arrived on Sunday May 28, 2023, when the Comac C919, registered as B-919A, completed its maiden scheduled passenger flight from Shanghai to Beijing. China Eastern Airlines reported that the flight carried 160 passengers and lasted approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes.

China’s Ambitious Aviation Plans Break the Airbus-Boeing Duopoly

The successful operation signifies a significant step forward in establishing the C919 as a viable alternative to Western aircraft such as the Airbus A320 Neo and Boeing 737 Max.

The C919 offers competitive advantages, including a lower price point, costing around $95 million, which is nearly 20% less than an Airbus A320 Neo. The affordability of the C919 positions it favorably in the Chinese market, where the replacement demand for more than 2,300 Airbus A320 family and Boeing 737 NG aircraft is imminent.

The Comac C919 boasts a range of 4,075 to 5,555 kilometers and can accommodate 158 to 192 passengers. China Eastern Airlines has chosen a configuration with 164 seats, including eight in business class and 156 in economy class.

With over 1,100 C919s already ordered according to Comac, China’s ambitious production plans signal a shift in the industry’s landscape, potentially altering the market dynamics that have long been dominated by Airbus and Boeing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has portrayed the project as a triumph of Chinese innovation, “After generations of effort, we have finally broken the West’s aviation monopoly and got rid of the humiliation of ‘800 million shirts for a Boeing,'” the Beijing Daily newspaper proclaimed.

While the C919’s commercial debut is a significant achievement for Chinese aviation, it is important to note that the aircraft incorporates Western-made components, including engines and electronics produced by companies such as General Electric, Honeywell International, and Safran. Comac has received more than 1,000 orders primarily from Chinese carriers, but the C919 is yet to obtain certification in the United States and Europe. Consequently, its market remains limited to China for the time being.

Comac ARJ21, first passenger jet developed in China

This milestone in China’s aviation industry follows the earlier success of the Comac ARJ21, the country’s first passenger jet. Since its introduction in 2016, over 80 ARJ21 aircraft have been delivered, primarily to Chinese operators.

Powered by two GE CF34-10A engines the ARJ21  – the abbreviation stands for Advanced Regional Jet of the 21st Century – accommodates 78 to 90 passengers and has a range of 2,200 kilometers, extending to 3,700 kilometers in the extended-range (ER) version. However, the ARJ21 currently lacks approval for operation in Europe and the United States.

Looking ahead, Comac continues to expand its portfolio, as it received approval from the Chinese aviation authority, CAAC, earlier this year to develop a freighter version of the ARJ21. Two customers, Longhao Airlines and Yuan Tong Airlines, have already placed orders for the ARJ21 CCF, which can transport up to 10.2 tons of cargo or five LD7 containers or PIP pallets. Additionally, Comac has ventured into the business jet market with the ARJ21 CBJ.

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