Building a commercial airliner is a task so monumental that there are only two significant manufacturers in the world, Airbus and Boeing. However, the People’s Republic of China hopes to break into the multi-billion dollar market with its first domestically-produced large passenger aircraft, the Comac C919. After 14 years of development and questionable acquisition of foreign intellectual property, the airliner is set to make its first commercial flight this weekend.
China Eastern Airlines received the first C919 last December and it has been the only one delivered so far. According to Reuters, China Eastern will finally use the airliner in revenue service on a 10:45 a.m. flight from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport to Beijing Capital Airport this Sunday. The landmark flight will be appropriately numbered MU9191. And with any momentous occasion of national importance, a stamp has already been commissioned to commemorate the flight.
The Comac C919 is intended to rival the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737. The state-owned aircraft manufacturer made several collaborative agreements with Western companies like GE Aerospace and Honeywell to develop the C919 but was also accused of stealing technology to build the airliner. A Chinese intelligence officer was arrested, tried and found guilty of corporate espionage in a case involving American aerospace expertise. Though, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs feels the charges were fabricated.
Time will tell if Comac will become a significant player in the aviation industry alongside Airbus and Boeing. The various state-owned airlines of China have 95 orders in total for the C919. There are almost no foreign orders for the airliner. Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair helped develop the C919 but hasn’t placed an order for the aircraft.