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China’s C919 Aircraft Repeatedly Delayed amid Doubts about U.S. Sanctions

The Comac C919, which aerospace manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) developed is China’s first domestically-made large passenger aircraft. It now has 815 orders from 28 customers. As the delivery date of the aircraft has been repeatedly delayed, doubts have emerged as to whether China’s aircraft industry will come under U.S. sanctions, following in the footsteps of Huawei.

Aiming to compete against the Airbus A320neo and the Boeing 737MAX, the C919 was originally scheduled to roll out its first aircraft by the end of 2015. However, it did not make its maiden flight until May 2017.

Voice of America quoted an internal document from COMAC that the company’s goal was to produce 150 C919’s annually after 2019, but did not provide a detailed schedule. Its first customer, China Eastern Airlines, is scheduled to receive the first C919 in 2021.

Shukor Yusof, founder of the aviation consulting firm Endau Analytics, has reservations about whether COMAC can deliver on time. He believes that although the aircraft is almost completed, it may not deliver until 2022 because China depends greatly on third-party suppliers from Europe and the United States. The impact of the COVID-19 epidemic is another factor.

Although China’s state media claimed that the C919 has achieved a localization rate of nearly 60 percent, the aircraft relies, to a large extent, on Western technology. Its propeller systems, flight control system, fuel system, power supply system and landing gear either use foreign products directly or come from joint ventures with foreign companies. China is mainly responsible for the design of the fuselage, wings, tail and interior.

Scott Kennedy, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), considers that China’s dependency on the West for China’s aircraft parts and assembly is far greater than Huawei’s dependence. Due to China’s strategic path in recent years and the tension between the U.S. and China, it is very likely that the U.S. will sanction China’s aviation industry in the future.

Source: Central News Agency, September 22, 2020