China unveils jet at air show | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, September 08, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, September 08, 2009

Aviation

China unveils jet at air show


An Embraer aircraft sits parked along with numerous private business jets on display at the Asian Aerospace International Expo and Congress 2009 in Hong Kong yesterday. China's largest home-produced commercial jet also made its international debut at Asia's biggest air show, in a demonstration of the country's ambition to be a global aviation giant. Photo: AFP

China unveiled the design of what will be its largest home-produced commercial jet at a Hong Kong air show Tuesday, demonstrating the country's ambition to be a global aviation giant.
An arm of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) exhibited a miniature of its C919 in Hong Kong, with some observers hailing the occasion as proof the fast-rising communist country has arrived in the industry.
"It's the first time that China has put a face in front of the global aviation industry," said Richard Thiele of Reed Exhibitions, organiser of the Asian Aerospace International Expo and Congress, which began Tuesday.
The single-aisle aircraft was designed by Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or COMAC, and is part of China's long-term plan to break the duopoly of Airbus and Boeing in the production of large commercial aircraft.
"We still have a long way to go in comparison with those aviation industry "superpowers" such as the USA," said Wang Wenbin, COMAC's assistant general manager, at the show.
Wang said the C919 project "will set a landmark for the overall modernisation" of China, which has until recent years focused only on developing military aviation technology.
The jet, which COMAC has said seats between 168 and 190 passengers, is due to make its maiden flight in 2014 and be delivered to clients in 2016, said Wang.
He also announced that the company had received a total of 208 confirmed and unconfirmed orders for its 70-seater ARJ21 -- which stands for Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st Century -- China's first home-made commercial plane.
Apart from COMAC, another 10 Chinese companies -- from suppliers to aircraft management firms -- also debuted at the expo, the organiser said.
It is no coincidence the event is being held on Chinese soil.
The three-day biennial meet, hailed as one of the world's most influential air shows, was moved from Singapore to Hong Kong in 2007 to be closer to mainland China, now seen as the world's fastest growing aviation market.
Thiele, Reed's head of sales for aerospace and aviation, said despite airlines worldwide being hit badly by the global economic downturn, 10,000 visitors and 356 firms are expected to take part in Asian Aerospace.
Lin Zuoming, president of AVIC, told the media last year that their goal was to realise 1,000 billion yuan (145 billion US dollars) of revenue by 2017.
Much of that business is expected to come from domestic demand -- as China's economy booms, more of its people can afford to take holidays and its airlines will need more planes to get Chinese passengers to their destinations.
Chinese media reports have estimated the country's airlines would need a total of 1,600 new passenger jets by 2020 and 3,000 by 2050, costing hundreds of billions of dollars.
However, while state-sponsored Chinese companies might have the determination and the budget to compete with Western aviation titans, some industry experts believe the path to global dominance will be challenging.
Martin Craigs, president of Aerospace Forum Asia, a non-profit group to advance awareness of the aerospace business, said aircraft manufacturing required a highly complex integration of technology and good marketing.
"It would be naive to think that it's going to be simple," he told AFP.
"Airlines are hyper-sensitive to operating costs, fuel efficiency and life-time maintenance support when choosing aircraft. They need certainty and no political, technological and commercial risks."
Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, a Malaysia-based trade organisation for the region's carriers, said it was unrealistic to think Chinese airlines would automatically buy home-made jets.
"Chinese airlines, when deciding whether to buy from Airbus, Boeing or other aircraft manufacturers will weigh the factors up dispassionately," he said.
A less risky alternative for China would be to invest its resources into the research and development of aircraft components and parts, he added.
He also warned that, while the backing of the state gives firms such as AVIC financial clout, it could also dissuade some buyers.
"The history of national aircraft ventures with political goals inherent in their projects is not something that seem to be taken up by consumers," he said.

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