China’s Comac Makes Splash at Asian Aerospace

 - September 28, 2009, 12:20 PM

China signaled in clear terms its plans to mount a determined–and relatively prompt–challenge of Boeing’s and Airbus’s domination of the world’s single-aisle airplane market during Hong Kong’s Asian Aerospace 2009, where Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) for the first time appeared at an international airshow. Displaying a large-scale model of its C919 concept as the centerpiece of its exhibit, Comac expects the 130- to 200-seat airplane to enter service in 2016, meaning it would pre-empt by at least four years any replacements for the Boeing 737NG or Airbus A320.   

“Securing [Comac] was the biggest breakthrough for this year’s show,” said Richard Thiele, head of global sales for organizer Reed Exhibitions. “It makes Asian Aerospace highly relevant not just to those hoping to sell to China’s airlines, but it opens up the long-awaited Chinese manufacturing supply chain to Western partners.”

One of those Western partners for the C919 will almost certainly include engine makers Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, CFM International or Rolls-Royce, as the Chinese have concluded that they cannot develop an indigenous engine capable of the advances promised by the Western companies in time for planned first flight.

GE makes the CF34-10A turbofan for ACAC’s ARJ21 regional jet, the third prototype of which joined the flight-test program on September 12. Although ACAC still manages the ARJ21, the Chinese plan to transfer the program’s administration to Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Co. (SAMC), while Comac retains control of its marketing, sales, certification and production.

Goodrich, meanwhile, has agreed to pursue a joint venture with China’s Xian Aircraft to build landing gear and engine nacelles for Chinese aircraft, most notably the C919.

Other Western suppliers interested in contributing to the C919 include France’s Safran, which entered a so-called framework agreement at the show with AVIC and whose Aircelle subsidiary recently joined with GE’s Middle River Aircraft Systems (MRAS) to form new entity called Nexcelle. That new unit signed an MOU with AVIC at the show to form a joint venture to design and manufacture engine nacelles and components for a full range of aircraft applications, including the C919.