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Manufacturing at new heights

By ZHU WENQIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-10 09:42

Manufacturing at new heights

Guests vie to take photos of the C919 after its successful maiden test flight and landing at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Friday. FANG ZHE / XINHUA

The C919 is not just the first homegrown Chinese passenger jet, it is the nation's first large plane with intellectual property rights.

Besides international standards, it boasts a global sourcing model akin to that of Boeing Co and Airbus Group SE.

Global sourcing is believed to raise production efficiency and save on costs. But manufacturers retain control over key technologies.

The C919 also boasts several significant technical breakthroughs. Intense research and development process preceded its making. For example, it uses a large amount of composite materials.

"A lot of people said that China only built the shell for the C919. This is a misunderstanding. Ensemble is one of the core technologies of large aircraft manufacturing. It's also a great difficulty for the aviation manufacturing industry," Ye Wei, executive director and president of COMAC America Corporation told Xinhua.

"The breakthrough of aircraft integration technology marks a great progress that China has made in the aviation sector."

Ye said that in order to achieve international standards, the C919 adopted global cooperation. Its engine, avionics system, as well as flight control system, are manufactured by many joint ventures and wholly-owned entities in Europe and the United States.

Its suppliers include international majors such as General Electric Aviation and Honeywell Aerospace.

"Internationalized business development requires global cooperation, and international procurement is a necessary path," he said. "From this perspective, the C919 creates values for the global enterprises, and it bears hope from around the world," Ye told Xinhua.

In fact, it is a common practice for the commercial aircraft manufacturing industry to rely on suppliers and component makers from around the world.

Manufacturing at new heights

Engineers test the windshield of the C919 at a facility in Chengdu, Sichuan province. LIU KUN / XINHUA

Wang Yanan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said the design and manufacture of large aircraft require integration of complex systems, and China serves as the host and the top designer.

"For the C919, China made specific technical requirements regarding the subsystems, and some international suppliers need to upgrade their systems to adapt to the C919 aircraft," he said.

"The design and assembly themselves constitute a key technology, which involves dynamics, aerodynamics and others. There aren't many developing countries that can come up with a plan and achieve it."

Wang said China now has the capability to manufacture passenger aircraft fully by itself. But the manufacturing period will get longer, and it will be difficult to control the market.

When the C919 project was launched, its maker COMAC aimed to develop a commercial airplane that will adapt to the global market, instead of labeling the aircraft a made-in-China product, which is an old-fashioned concept.

Meanwhile, Boeing and Airbus are keen to cooperate with COMAC, to take advantage of the opportunities and talent in China. They hope to tap into the local market. Several hundreds of international partners are also benefiting from the development of the C919 project.

Liu Shaoyong, chairman of China Eastern Airlines, said as the first global customer that will use the C919 aircraft, the carrier is looking forward to press the plane into service as soon as possible. The first route of the C919 will connect Shanghai and Beijing. The first flight on this route is expected to be around the 2020-22 period.

Liu said the C919 integrates the highest level of scientific applications in both domestic and international aviation industries. It also enjoys certain late-mover advantages, and is designed at a high starting point.

"The market for civil aviation is broad, and China is already a huge market. An aircraft that is safe, economical, comfortable and environmentally-friendly will be favored by the market. I am sure that the C919 will become very popular," he said.

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