The maiden commercial flight of the C919, China's first domestically manufactured large airliner, has raised hopes the country can build its own aviation supply chains and – eventually – compete with Airbus and Boeing.
The 164-seat C919, built by the Commercial Aviation Corporation of China (Comac), completed a three-hour journey between Shanghai and Beijing.
China hopes the new jet can break the dominance of Airbus and Boeing within the single-aisle jet market.
Chen Xianfan, an analyst from the China International Capital Corporation, said: “The completion of the inaugural flight will … drive the entire supply chain on passenger flight production – from design [and] manufacturing [to] training and repair sections.”
But many analysts are doubtful that China is in a position to take on Boeing and Airbus anytime soon.
“Even if the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China can increase its annual production capacity of the C919 to 150 in five years as planned, that will still be far from enough to meet even the demand of the Chinese market,” said state news site China Daily.
It said the Chinese market alone would demand more than 6,000 single-aisle jetliners over the next 20 years – making it hard to crack Boeing and Airbus’s dominance.
Estimates of the number of foreign suppliers have varied, but it has been widely reported that many key technologies in the C919 are sourced from abroad.
According to a December 2020 report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, US companies represent almost 60% of the C919’s primary suppliers.
Despite the involvement of more than 200 Chinese firms in the production of the jet, the engine, avionics, control systems, communications and landing gear were imported.
However, China Daily pointed out that even Boeing and Airbus rely heavily on international supply chains.
“As a commercial aircraft manufacturer, Comac must always make safety its priority, and what it needs to do is to provide reliable equipment rather than blindly pursue the localisation rate of the plane,” the publication said.
“Even Boeing and Airbus never pursue a high localisation rate but constantly cultivate reliable and high-quality global suppliers in order to achieve a win-win situation.”
China is hoping that it can establish homegrown sources of key components such as engines and other subsystems to create self-sufficiency within commercial aircraft production.
“The C919 can become a ‘new engine’ to drive the development of China's aviation industry and high-end manufacturing industry,” China Daily added.