Introducing the Comac 919, aka China’s Impeccable Sense of Timing

Last week at the Singapore Airshow, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China showed off its C919. The nose design is a copy of Boeing’s 787 and Airbus’s A350, and its elegant wingtips mirror the raked elegance inherent in the latest advances to reduce aerodynamic drag. The backend of the plane is nothing to write home about, but all told it’s a pretty fine-looking machine.

But the C919 is more than just a looker. The aircraft is a 200-seater built for regional hauls. Which means it’s on a deliberate collision course with the least safe, most talked-about aircraft in the sky, Boeing’s 737 Max.

The last time a commercial aircraft type endured such bad press was in 1953, when three De Havilland Comets crashed in quick succession. The 737 Max has had an equally turbulent time in the last few years, with two all-souls-lost tragedies. And not forgetting the recent Alaska Airlines close call. Accidents that have put a spotlight on both assembly procedure and manufacturing quality control on all Boeing aircraft, not just the 737 MAX. Even Emirates Airline CEO Sir Tim Clarke went to press, suggesting that Boeing was in ‘The Last Chance Saloon’. This comment has now put an Emirates order of 95 Boeings in jeopardy.

And now along comes the C919, a brand new, completely home-grown Chinese solution to the 737 MAX problem. I make a point of brand new because the 737 MAX is a cobbled-together plane with very little innovation. A combination of old technologies, simply. And I make the point about home grown because the other competitor, the Airbus A320neo, uses American-built engines.

The plane has been flying on internal Chinese routes only, as it has not yet applied for international certification. But the C919’s surprise flyby in Singapore will ignite interest amongst all carriers with regional routes.

Right now, there are almost certainly many high-level meetings about the C919 going on at airline headquarters around the world.

And one very high-level meeting at Boeing.

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