Boeing president deems China biggest emerging competitor

Boeing president deems China biggest emerging competitor

Can China’s narrow-body aircraft C919 rival the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320?
Comac C919 -- main
China unveiled the design of its first large homegrown aircraft, the Comac C919, at the Asian Aerospace International Expo and Congress 2009 in Hong Kong. The C919 is due to enter the market in 2016.

Here are five letters all aviation aficionados should remember from now on: C-O-M-A-C.

Short for Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (中国商用飞机有限责任公司), Comac is an aviation industry name likely to share the limelight with Airbus or Boeing in the near future.

The Chinese state-owned aerospace manufacturer has been deemed “the biggest threat to Boeing and Airbus” by Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, reported Aviation Daily

Albaugh made his remarks recently during a speech to the Aviation Club in London.

From “AB” duopoly to “ABC” matchup

Albaugh said Boeing and Airbus face competition from Canada, Brazil and China, but he didn’t think they would all succeed.

If [Comac C919] is going to be the airplane or not, I don’t know, but eventually, China will get it right.

-- Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

“My guess is one of them will emerge and become a very good competitor for us, and I won’t be surprised if it was China,” he noted.

Albaugh predicted Comac would be the most likely candidate to produce commercial aircraft to rival Boeing and Airbus.

This means the Chinese aircraft maker has a chance to upgrade the current “AB duoply” (Airbus and Boeing) to a fiercer “ABC matchup” (Airbus, Boeing and Comac).

But Tian Min (田民), a high-ranking Comac official, told the Anhui News (in simplified Chinese only) in late May that the company’s primary job at this stage is to "actively participate in the manufacture according to market discipline and international practice.

“[We cannot] rush to the statement that [we are] challenging or competing with [Airbus or Boeing],” said Tian.

Comac C919 -- inlinePrototype of C919's cabin seen during the Zhuhai Airshow in 2010.

China’s own 737

Comac is currently developing China's first large homegrown aircraft, the C919, which will be a direct competitor to the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737. 

“If that’s going to be the airplane or not, I don’t know, but eventually, they will get it right,” Albaugh said on the same occasion.

The 17-meter-long, 3.96-meter-wide, single-aisle jet is scheduled to take its first test flight in 2014 and to start carrying passengers in 2016.

Xinhua New Agency reported that Comac had received 235 orders for the C919 as of March 2012 from domestic and international clients. Air China, China Eastern and China Southern are among the biggest buyers.

Wu Guanghui (吴光辉), chief designer of C919, explained the meaning behind the jet's name to Beijing Youth Daily (in simplified Chinese only): “The first ‘9’ in the craft's model number stands for ‘forever,’ (based on two words with similar pronunciations in Chinese). The ‘19’ refers to the maximum number of 190 seats on the aircraft.” 

Wu said Comac’s next generation aircraft would probably be named C929, which means the jet’s maximum capacity would reach 290 seats.

According to the available information, the C919 will contain 168 seats with an all-economy-class layout or 156 with a mix-class design.

A Chinese heart

The C919 is set to use the Advanced LEAP-X1C engine, which also powers the Boeing and Airbus aircraft. But the country is designing a domestic engine, or a “Chinese heart” as billed by Comac, for the plane.

Xinhua said the new Chinese engine, named "Yangtze 1000," is undergoing certification in Shanghai.

The C919 is forecast to save up to 10 percent in direct operating cost compared with existing aircraft of the same size, claimed Comac.

“Competition has always been good for the aviation business and makes everyone in the industry invest in better technologies and find solutions to evolving customer needs,” said Wang Yukui (王玉奎), Boeing China's vice president of communications.

“Boeing recognizes and respects the ambitions of other countries and companies to enter commercial aerospace as large airplane manufacturers."

More on CNNGo: Boeing 747-8 vs. Airbus A380 -- the airline giants face off

Amid fierce competition, Boeing recently unveiled a futuristic “swallowtail” wingtip for 737 MAX , a re-engineered narrow-body aircraft family scheduled to fly in 2017.

The new aircraft is reported to have a 6.5 percent fuel-burn advantage over the A320neo, Airbus's next-generation aircraft due to debut in 2015, and the main competitor of Boeing's 737 MAX.

CNNGo was unable to reach Airbus for comment on this article.