Airline Growth in China on Display at AA2011

 - March 11, 2011, 10:00 AM
Comac announced at Asian Aerospace that it has completed the preliminary design phase on its C919 narrowbody.

The third edition of Asian Aerospace since its move from Singapore to Hong Kong got off to a flying start on Tuesday, when Hainan Airlines Group (HNA) subsidiary Hong Kong Airlines ordered 38 Boeing airliners. The deal involved thirty 787-9 Dreamliners, six 777 freighters and two VIP-configured 787-8s.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, Air China signed an MOU covering five Boeing 747-8 Intercontinentals, delivery of which it says it expects to start “within the next three years,” following Chinese government approval.

Then, on Wednesday, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific placed firm orders for 15 Airbus A330-300s and 10 Boeing 777-300ERs.

All the early commercial activity seemed to validate the upbeat tone of outgoing Cathay Pacific CEO Tony Tyler’s show-opening speech, during which he said that the number of airline passengers in China would reach 500 million by 2015 and 1.5 billion by 2030, up from 267 million in 2010. He also said that usable airports in China would number 220 by 2015, compared with 175 today.

Chinese state manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) had a huge display at the show. The company has completed the preliminary design phase on its C919 narrowbody and aims to finish detailed design next year. The aircraft will seat up to 168 passengers in an all-economy configuration and 156 in mixed. The firm says it plans up to six different variants, including stretched, business, freighter and military platforms.

A team of Civil Aviation Authority of China officials in Shanghai will evaluate the aircraft for its type certification, to which Comac intends to add EASA and FAA tickets afterwards. Scheduled for first flight in 2014 and entry into service in 2016, the airliner has attracted orders and options for 100 units so far. All of China’s major carriers have ordered the C919, namely Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines, as have lessors CDB Leasing and GECAS.

However, Brazilian manufacturer Embraer remains uncertain about the fate of its Harbin manufacturing plant–Harbin Embraer. Although the plant remains in operation, its backlog consists of just two more ERJ 145s, expected to go to Tianjin Airlines some time this spring. Once it delivers the final airplane, the factory will close unless the Chinese government intervenes. Embraer wants to retrofit the plant to build E190s, but can’t until the Chinese authorities issue their approval.

On a happier note, the first Aviation Awards Asia took place at the show, where Air New Zealand took top honors for full service airlines and New Zealand Airways took the prize for technology and achievement. SIA Engineering accepted the honors for best MRO company and Air Asia won the award for best low-cost carrier.