Comac C919: the airshow debut on the cloud of the Covid restrictions of the Chinese jet

China staged a discreet but historic debut of its C919 civilian jet at its largest airshow on Tuesday, with some delegates unable to attend the reduced event due to Beijing’s zero-Covid policy as cases reached the highest level in six months.

As a reminder of the continuing health crisis that slows China’s return to global aviation, organizers of the Airshow China in the southern city of Zhuhai urged attendees to arrive three days early due to Covid-19 precautions.

Even then, some were barred from joining on the first day because they had visited a Beijing district that had had positive cases last week, three attendees said.

A China-based executive at a Western engine manufacturer said many Beijing-based delegates returned home frustrated, although some were admitted at the last minute.

The organizers did not respond to a request for comment.

China’s zero-Covid policy has hampered its domestic aviation industry and kept international traffic at a small fraction of pre-pandemic levels as Western carriers rebound sharply.

The zero-Covid policy comes in the midst of a broader decoupling from the West as China aims for greater self-sufficiency amid the effects of severe export sanctions imposed on Russian aviation following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Zhuhai is of great interest to Chinese aviation observers, and missing the show is a significant missed opportunity for those seeking to understand China’s opaque commercial and defense aerospace sectors,” said Greg Waldron, Asian Editor-in-Chief of FlightGlobal. .

Tuesday’s grand opening marked the first time Western aircraft giants Airbus and Boeing shared the stage with China’s new single-aisle COMAC C919 jet at the key event.

The newly certified local rival of the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX took part in the flying show of the show for the first time, performing sharp 45-degree turns in green, white and blue livery.

Chinese J-20 stealth fighter aircraft at Airshow China, Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, on November 8.

Previously, four J-20 stealth fighter jets passed in close formation.

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) has reported orders from leasing companies for 300 C919s and 30 ARJ21 regional jets.

As with previous announcements, it was not immediately clear how many firm orders or expressions of interest were. COMAC plans first delivery of C919 to eastern China in December.

Analysts say it will take some time for the C919 to crack an entrenched Airbus-Boeing market duopoly outside of China, but Tuesday’s display marked a turning point 10 years after first orders were placed at the same event.

In contrast, the sun was setting in China on Tuesday on one of Europe’s most visible global symbols, the double-decker A380.

Tracking website FlightRadar24 said China Southern Airlines operated its last A380 flight from Los Angeles on Tuesday. The airline did not respond to a request for comment.

Production of the world’s largest airliner ended last year after poor sales, including the near-failure to conquer the Chinese market. An auction of A380 parts was held in France last month.

Analysts say Airbus nevertheless enjoys strong demand for the best-selling A320neo, bolstered by US tensions that delayed Boeing MAX’s renewed deliveries following a security crisis.

Airbus on Tuesday formally booked an order for 40 A320neo family jets from all Boeing operator Xiamen Airlines.

Chinese observers said the airline’s decision to ease its dependence on Boeing was considered particularly symbolic after Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited the cockpit of a larger Xiamen 787 during a visit to the Boeing plant in China. Seattle area in 2015.

Europe has also taken new steps forward with certification for the Chinese markets of its ATR 42-600 turboprop after a long wait.

The show took place against the backdrop of rising tensions between China and Taiwan after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August, sparking massive Chinese military exercises at a time when the world is also on the brink of conflict. Ukrainian.

The state-owned Global Times reported that a new anti-drone defense system built around the HQ-17AE short-range air defense missile complex will debut in Zhuhai as a countermeasure for low, slow, and small drones that are difficult to identify and attack. with traditional anti-aircraft systems.

China is also sporting an FH-97A “Loyal Wingman” drone model designed to coordinate with manned aircraft, the newspaper reported. The aircraft is different from the FH-97 concept first shown last year.

The FH-97 is nearly identical to the US-developed Kratos Defense and Security Solutions XQ-58A Valkyrie, which first flew in 2019, while the FH-97A looks more like the MQ-28 Ghost Bat developed by Boeing in Australia, the photographs indicate.

“Early images from the show suggest it will again be a major bazaar of China’s UAV technology, including what appear to be unmanned fighter aircraft models that may someday accompany Chinese J-20 fighters into combat,” Waldron said.

“However, it can be very difficult to understand whether the various UAV models present at the show represent real programs with investments from the Chinese military.”