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Dead US airline owners look to buy unborn China jet

Another two year old c919 graphic found on Weibo

In a case of the un-dead meeting the unborn, the US owners of the defunct Eastern Air Lines brand have signed a rather vaguely reported MOU with the makers of the yet to fly COMAC c919 single aisle mid range passenger jet.

Eastern Air Lines was shut down and bankrupted in the US in 1991.

The c919, which has been variously described, sometimes by the same official sources, as a high composite, high metal alloy, short, medium or intercontinental range jet, but which does use American engines and has claimed cockpit commonality with the also yet to fly Bombardier CSeries jets, has so far defied concise specifications or timelines.

The stories have come from the Xhuhai Air Show in China, where it may have been a slow news day.

However the c919 shouldn’t be mocked. China needs more A320 or 737 sized jets in the next 20 years than Airbus or Boeing seem capable of building, even including the efforts of an Airbus final assembly line that has been completing kits sent across from Airbus in Europe since September 2008.

According to background briefings several years ago, when the c919 plans saw daylight, the jet wouldn’t undergo US and European certification flight testing, but operate within, and be thus optimised for  China domestic flights. Raising memories of the Dassault Mercure of the late 20th century, which was satirised in France as the only jet that couldn’t leave the country, which wasn’t true, as Lille to Southampton was indeed possible.

Since then the c919 has turned down if not completely silenced the satirical comments from within western aerospace companies, and especially so from those trying to sell COMAC their ‘secrets’ and equipment.

The main COMAC comedy act had become Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary proposing to buy the jet instead of ordering at least 200 new technology engine variants of the 737 or A320 from Boeing or Airbus respectively.

Neither of whom seemed very impressed by O’Leary wanting the jets for next to nothing, and totally redesigned so that they could pack in standing room only passengers, which had fairly serious consequences for totally altering the emergency exits, emergency oxygen systems and such minor things as takeoff and landing performance with 360 passengers instead of a typical low cost format of 180 of them stuffed so close together that unless married or in a consenting adult relationship criminal charges might have arisen.

However at this early stage there is no sign of O’Leary or any Ryanair executives in Zhuhai, but we remain attuned to this rescuing an otherwise bleak news outlook.

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  • 1
    Steve777
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I think that the headline should read “Owners of Dead US airline look to buy unborn China jet”.

  • 2
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Aha. True. But headlines need to be no more than 60 characters and spaces to be visible to ‘news’ search engine functions. Sometimes writers will break this rule, if they even know it is a constraint, but there is a work around which allows you to write a headline that will only appear on the top of some web pages in 60 or less and write longer for the more visible headline. The problem for me and tens of thousands of other on-line writers is that formats that might look good on a normal computer get broken by some smaller devices, and so forth, so in general I just try to stick to 60 and move on. Can be annoying.

  • 3
    yankiwi
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Given that 564 passengers and crew were killed, and countless numbers injured in Eastern Airlines crashes between 1955 and its demise in 1991, the airline name should remain a memory only.

  • 4
    LongTimeObserver
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    An early mistranslated report from Xuihai had “USA Airways Intends to Buy C919s”…

  • 5
    comet
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    What’s our best prediction on how well the C919 will go in the market?

    Last I checked, the C919 had almost 400 orders, which I think makes it a success already. That should be enough to turn a profit.

    The 737 MAX has just over 900 orders. I think Airbus NEO would have around 1500 orders.

    For the unproven C919 to get almost half of the order volume of the 737 MAX finally breaks the Airbus and Boeing duopoly. Now we have an A, B and C in airframe manufacturers. According to published reports, both Ryanair and British Airways are interested in buying the C919.

  • 6
    J.W.
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Think it’s probably more likely a translation error.

    China Eastern Airlines is often referred to as Eastern Airlines locally.

  • 7
    Frequent Traveller
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    The correct comparison between C919, 737 and A320 is to show order intake for the respective programmes measured @ N days before the 1st flight of FTV1. You’ll see that with its present sales scoring, C919 is actually beating the breath out of its two predecessors.

  • 8
    Frequent Traveller
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    No wonder : keep C919 (153.5″ trim-to-trim cabin interior width) in the corner of the eye, when commenting MAX or NEO sales figures … A was not necessarily eyeing B when they set the NEO going in Dec10 (too early, some people say ?) nor was B necessarily eyeing A when retaliating with MAX : well could both A and B actually have been eyeing C : the C919 potentially has “Quick Rotation” built-in capability in twin aisle [Thompson-staggered, to 73X seat-dimensional standards] cabin reconfigurations with 6-abreast seating – HQR [1+3+2], HP3 [2+2+2] or simply [1+4+1] – all of which are perfectly apt to make their way massively into the LCC universe. Didn’t A + B simply aim to forego a dangerous sales hemoragghia to COMAC, specially in the ASEAN/Indian region ? The C919 sales tally is coming close to 400 units and that’s more than A320 before its first flight : if it exists, the White Tails hazard @ A + B possibly does not so much affect the pre-NEO/MAX clunkers but rather affects indistinctly all post-C919-first-flight [3+3] aircraft, doomed commercially obsolete vs the much more ground-efficient and end-user friendly twin-aisled versions of the C919s. That [3+3] sardine-box feeders keep selling by the thousands only attests to the irony of orchestrated Oligopoly.

  • 9
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    There was an proprietary image of a model of the c919 in the US Eastern hockey stick livery and identical colours and fonts on one of the reports from the show.

    The important observation is that the current owners of the old Eastern brand want COMAC to finance the resurrection of the brand as well as supply the jet, but these will have to be certified to US standards. I have doubts that this is going anywhere as a finance strategy in which under US law the foreign component cannot currently exceed a 25% equity, or equivalent control.

    On the other hand, COMAC is buying the best the west can offer in new technology and applying it to their format, whatever that may really be, and there is no reason to expect technical reasons might arise that would prevent the jet achieving FAA certification since the challenges of designing and making single aisle twin engined jets seems to have been met and overcome for quite some time.

    However COMAC has no product support structures nor relationships with non China airlines, and for airlines with a long and productive relationship with either or both major manufacturers, COMAC will be up against it.

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