China's home-developed C919 large passenger aircraft could help the revival of bankrupt US air carrier Eastern Air Lines, which ceased operation in 1991.
The Commercial Aircraft Corp of China - or known as COMAC - designer and builder of the C919, announced last week that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with investors planning to resurrect Eastern Air.
Jack Shi, senior vice-president for commercial development at Eastern Air, told Reuters that once reborn, Eastern wants to be the first US carrier to fly COMAC jets.
The planes are expected to be used on China-Latin America routes.
The C919 received 50 new orders on Nov 13, the first day of the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, which increased the total number of orders to 380 aircraft and an expanded list of 15 clients.
Most of the new contracts were signed with domestic airlines. Hebei Aviation Group and Xi'an-based Joy Air each ordered 20. Another 10 orders came from international aircraft leasing company GE Capital Aviation Service.
GECAS already ordered 10 of the aircraft two years ago at the Zhuhai Airshow.
"The signing of the new orders and MOU indicates that the C919 has once again won recognition in both domestic and overseas markets," said He Dongfeng, general manager of COMAC.
The C919 is a short-to-medium range, single-aisle commercial trunk liner. Its all-economy class layout has 168 seats and the hybrid class configuration has 156 seats. The basic version is designed to have a range of 4,075 kilometers. An enhanced version can fly more than 5,500 km without refueling.
This year, the manufacturer refined the shape of the plane to be more aerodynamic, and made a series of tests on its endurance and performance. Fabrication on some components has started at factories in Shanghai and Chengdu.
Wang Xiaoyan, an aviation industry analyst with Minsheng Securities Co Ltd, said the C919 is now "warming up", with the real tests to be the market and time.
"China is building up its industry chain in civil aircraft," Wang said. "The project to make large passenger aircraft is playing an emerging role in driving the nation's aviation industry and the high-tech sector."
Zhang Jian, vice-president of Aviation Engine Holding Co Ltd, a subsidiary of the State-owned giant Aviation Industry Corp of China, said it launched a special program in engine R&D, "the top cause for the 'heart' problem in China's aviation sector".
"We estimate the accumulative investment nationwide in the short run will be more than 100 billion yuan ($16 billion)," he said.
The C919 is expected to hit the market by late next year or early 2014, according to its chief designer, Wu Guanghui. "The future global and domestic markets will have a strong appetite for civil aircraft like the C919," he said.
(China Daily 11/21/2012 page10)