China’s homegrown 737 competitor has to wait a while to fill the vacuum left by Boeing: Europe says COMAC's C919 is 'too new' to approve by 2026

China wants to take a bite out of the commercial passenger aviation market with the C919, its homegrown passenger jet from the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC). State media closely follows each step of the narrow-body plane’s development. The C919 made its global debut at the Singapore Air Show—right as U.S. planemaker Boeing, scrambling to handle the fallout from a faulty door plug on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, pulled its commercial planes.

But COMAC may be getting a reality check on hopes to quickly break into the market and take advantage of Boeing’s safety troubles.

In an interview with Reuters, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) top official said the plane is “too new for us to know how easy or difficult it will be” to certify quickly. (The EASA is the EU’s air safety regulator.)

COMAC originally bid for European approval of the C919 in 2019, only for plans to be put on hold due to the COVID pandemic, Luc Tytgat, acting executive director of EASA, explained. COMAC then restarted its bid for European approval of the C919 last November, and asked for the work to be completed by 2026.

“It will be a big work to reconnect and go for a familiarization with what the plane looks like today,” he explained.

The C919 received the type certificate—the de facto standard for global aviation safety—from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in September 2022 and an approval for production in November the same year.

China Eastern Airlines has operated the C919 in China since May 2023 and COMAC also took the plane on a promotional tour through five Southeast Asian countries this year.

Airlines are currently facing a shortage of planes, compounded by Boeing’s recent safety issues. Planemakers are still grappling with supply chain issues caused by the COVID pandemic. International Air Transport Association director-general Willie Walsh said in February that manufacturing will remain snarled for “a few more years.”

Greater regulatory scrutiny on Boeing’s production process following the mid-air blowout of a door plug on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane in January will also mean fewer Boeing planes on the market. United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Emirates and Ryanair are among the carriers warning of delivery delays.

The C919 will have to be certified by U.S. and European aviation regulators before it can operate commercially in Western markets. It might take a while, despite China having bilateral aviation safety agreements with both Europe and the U.S. The COMAC-made ARJ21, a regional jet, has been in commercial use since 2016, but has yet to receive certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. (The ARJ21 only has one non-Chinese customer, the Indonesian airline TransNusa)

For now, neither Boeing nor Airbus—the current duopoly controlling the market—see the C919 as a threat in the short-term. Executives from both planemakers told CNBC in February that they see COMAC’s offering as similar to what’s already on the market.

European carriers, for their part, don’t appear to be desperate for a new plane. No European airline has asked the EASA to speed up approval of the C919 so they can place orders, Tytgat revealed to Reuters.

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