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Sat, Jun 03, 2023

China’s C919 Airliner Makes First Revenue Flight


China’s first domestically-produced airliner, the Comac C919, made its inaugural revenue flight on Sunday, 28 May 2023.

Operated by China Eastern Airlines, the flight conveyed some 130 paying passengers between Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport (PVG) and Beijing’s Capital International Airport (PEK).

The 164-seat, narrow-body aircraft—of which China Eastern took delivery in December 2022—was manufactured by China’s state-owned Commercial Aviation Corporation of China (Comac)

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported passengers aboard the milestone flight received red boarding passes and a themed meal which concluded with a dessert featuring the aircraft’s logo. Such trivialities pass for luxuries in a nation ruthlessly presided over by an authoritarian communist regime infamous for depriving its citizens of rudimentary human rights on a sweeping scale and systematically curtailing freedoms as a means by which to retain power.

In any case, Comac’s 919 is a conventional, narrow-body, low-wing, twin-engine airliner bearing an uncanny resemblance to Airbus’s A320. Comac claims the aircraft manages a 44,974-pound payload, a Mach 0.785 (450-knot) cruise speed, and a service-ceiling of 39,800-feet. Two variants of the C919 are planned: the standard version with a 2,200-nautical-mile range, and a 2,999-nautical-mile extended-range model.

Excepting the pair of underwing-mounted, 30,830-lbf CFM LEAP-1C high-bypass turbofan engines by which it’s powered, the C919 is deemed by analysts to be an archaic machine, analogous in sophistication to a late 1980s-vintage A320 and decidedly less efficient than the aircraft with which it competes—namely, Airbus’s A320neo and Boeing's 737 MAX.

The C919’s engine's nacelle, thrust reverser, and exhaust systems are produced by Baltimore-Maryland-based Nexcelle. France’s Michelin will supply the aircraft’s Air X radial tires. The C919’s integrated modular avionics architecture is based on Ethernet, and its landing gear is built in China by a joint venture of Germany's Liebherr and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China’s (AVIC) Landing Gear Advanced Manufacturing Corporation.

While the C919’s airframe is wholly produced by AVIC, the aircraft’s cabin electrical power, fire protection, and lighting systems are designed and built by Charlotte, North Carolina-based UTC Aerospace Systems (UTAS). Additional cabin and primary avionics are by Rockwell Collins, while Thales produces the C919’s In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system. The C919’s flight controls, APU, wheels and brakes are built by Honeywell; its hydraulics, actuators and fuel system are produced by Parker, and its high-lift system is built by Moog.

According to a report from cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike and a U.S. Justice Department indictment, the Chinese cyberthreat actor Turbine Panda—an individual linked to China’s Ministry of State Security’s Jiangsu Bureau—penetrated a number of the C919's Western components manufacturers, including Ametek, Capstone Turbine, GE Aviation, Honeywell, and Safran, and, from 2010 to 2015, pilfered intellectual property and industrial process data with the aim of transitioning component manufacturing from Western to Chinese companies. The report stated Turbine Panda’s operations involved both cyber intrusion and theft as well as HUMINT (a portmanteau of Human and Intelligence) operations, most of which utilized segments of clandestine, purpose-written code.

Investigations of Chinese industrial espionage and theft of trade secrets in connection with the C919’s design and development have led to the arrests of five individuals in the U.S.

In November 2022, a federal jury in Cincinnati sentenced Yanjun Xu, 42, to twenty-years in U.S. federal prison after he was found guilty of attempting to steal advanced aviation trade secrets from General Electric Aviation. Yanjun, a Chinese Ministry of State Security deputy division director, was the first Chinese government intelligence officer to be extradited to the U.S. for purpose of standing trial. Yanjun’s actions and immediate future belie the fact the Chinese given name Xu translates to Brilliant Rising Sun.

That Comac’s C919 is China’s first domestically-produced airliner isn’t, by strictest definition, true. In 2007, Comac introduced the Comac ARJ21 Xiangfeng (soaring phoenix), a 78 to 90-seat regional jet evocative of an early-model DC-9 kitted out with high-bypass engines and winglets and gone to roost amongst the Middle Kingdom’s Ginkgo bilobas. While the aircraft remains in production, its place in aviation history stands to fall lower than the Britten-Norman’s Trislander and only slightly higher than the Stipa-Caproni.



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