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China Unveils Its First Commercial Jet To Compete With Boeing, Airbus

The first twin-engine C919 passenger plane made by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China is pulled out of the company's hangar Monday during a ceremony near Shanghai.

China unveiled its first passenger jet Monday, part of an effort to compete in the lucrative commercial aircraft business now dominated by Boeing and Airbus.

The single-aisle, twin-engine C919 was developed by the state-run Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or Comac. The jet was shown to a large crowd of government dignitaries in a hangar at an assembly plant outside Shanghai, near Pudong International Airport.

"A great nation must have its own large commercial aircraft," China's civil aviation chief, Li Jiaxiang, is quoted as saying by the BBC.

"China's air transport industry cannot completely rely on imports," he told the crowd.

The C919 was expected to be ready for delivery last year but suffered from production delays. It will undergo testing over the next year or so and won't be ready for delivery until 2018 at the earliest. Its first customers are expected to be Chinese airlines.

The Wall Street Journal reports :

"The 158-to-174 seater — designed in Shanghai but incorporating components sourced globally — relies on foreign technology, including avionics from Rockwell Collins Inc. and engines developed by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric Co. and the Snecma engine unit of France's Safran SA. The jet is expected to undergo ground and flight tests spanning two to three years, before attaining certification from China's civil-aviation regulator and entering commercial service.

"China unveiled plans to develop the C919 in 2006 as part of a decadeslong effort to create an advanced aerospace sector capable of breaking the Airbus and Boeing duopoly. Coming after an abortive effort in the 1970s and early 1980s to develop a large commercial jetliner, the C919 was meant to help satisfy growing air-travel demand on the mainland, competing with the likes of Airbus's A320 family and Boeing's 737 series."

The unveiling of the jet is a huge step forward for China's incipient aircraft industry.

Another Chinese company has developed a smaller regional jet, of the kind now made by Brazil's Embraer and Canada's Bombardier.

The Journal quoted an Airbus spokesman as congratulating Comac for achieving "an important milestone." It also said it welcomed competition from the company.

"The market is big enough for more than two manufacturers," the company said.

Both Airbus and Boeing do considerable production in China. The newspaper adds, "Airbus and Boeing, for their part, are seeking to shore up their market shares in China by building up an industrial footprint on the mainland, and developing new aircraft that can outperform upcoming Chinese rivals."

The European company manufactures A320s in Tianjin, while Boeing has a completion and delivery center where interiors of 737s are installed.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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