China's biggest airliner project debuts to a near empty hall © Peter Ricketts, Asia-Pacific Aerospace Report
China's biggest airliner project debuts to a near empty hall © Peter Ricketts, Asia-Pacific Aerospace Report

China’s challenge to the larger jet dominance of Airbus and Boeing, the Comac 919, is centre stage at the first show day of Asian Aerospace ’09 at Hong Kong today.

Close up, the Comac 919 model ©Peter Ricketts, Asia-Pacific Aerospace Report
Close up, the Comac 919 model ©Peter Ricketts, Asia-Pacific Aerospace Report

However Peter Ricketts, the editor of Asia-Pacific Aerospace Report, says if its debut before the western media is any guide to its future, the omens are not good.

“Its stand was deserted most of the first day of the show,” he says.

“The only staff were two or three red coated receptionists who had really nothing to say about the C919 which was probably the highlight of the show. There were not even the most basic of brochures available.

“If the company can’t get marketing of its launch at a prime air show right the future of the company does not look bright when its starts competing agasint the hard headed Boeing and Airbus sales teams.”

But he also says close examination of the model of this next and most ambitious yet of China designed and manufactured airliners shows it is a clean sheet design, and not a copy of anything from Airbus or Boeing.

Not the rumored T-tail © Peter Ricketts, Asia-Pacific Aerospace Report
Not the rumored T-tail © Peter Ricketts, Asia-Pacific Aerospace Report

However many questions remain unanswered, as to performance goals, the use of metallic and composite components, the flight control systems architecture, and its position within a line up of larger or smaller derivatives as found in the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families.

Comac, the Commercial Aircraft Company of China, expects the C919 to be ready for service in 2016. Western engine makers are already pitching for the power plant contracts, but Comac says another state owned enterprise, AVIC, is developing a Chinese engine alternative for later use, possibly as a joint venture.

First flight of the ARJ21-700 on 28 November, 2008. (AP Photo)
First flight of the ARJ21-700 on 28 November, 2008. (AP Photo)

The C919 will join the China designed and built regional jet the ARJ 21-700, above, a 90 passenger short to medium range jet due in service next year.

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