China makes inferior clone of A320 but Boeing expects 2030 iteration to be competitive

The first large airliner designed and built in China successfully completed its maiden flight in Shanghai Friday. The C919 is roughly the size of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and the Airbus A320neo.

Yet western experts believe it won’t put much of a dent in the market share of the dominant U.S. and European players.

Launched nine years ago and now running three years late, the C919 jet won’t enter service until 2019 or 2020.

The C919 is remarkably similar to the A320. The Chinese even chose to give the flight deck the same Airbus-style side-stick pilot controls rather than the steering column or yoke favored by Boeing.

Since 2008, Airbus has been building A320s in a final assembly plant in Tianjin, China, a joint venture with a Chinese manufacturing consortium that must have helped lay the groundwork for the homegrown airplane.

Leeham analyst Bjorn Fehrm said the C919 is about 4 percent heavier than the two Western jets in the same configuration, which will make it less efficient.

Boeing leaders have said for years that it’s the next generation of Chinese commercial jets after the C919 that will offer real competition, likely around 2030.

Bainbridge Island-based aviation consulting firm Leeham.net said this week that COMAC is targeting a top production rate of no more than seven jets per month well into the next decade.

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