Manufacturing News

New plane seen boosting Chinese aviation industry

Experts say the successful development of the C919 airliner-China's first domestically built large passenger aircraft-could spark the creation of a nationwide aviation industry.

Commercial Aircraft Corp of China, or COMAC, showed off the first of the twin-engine planes in a ceremony at its Shanghai factory on Monday.

Since its launch in 2008, the C919 project has so far created 16 separate joint ventures, to supply various parts and systems for the narrow-bodied aircraft, such as its wheels and brakes, electronic flight controls and entertainment systems.

The suppliers themselves are in no doubt about the project's importance to the future of Chinese aviation.

"This new airliner represents a crucial part of China's long-term goal to enhance the global competitiveness of its aerospace industry," said Brian Greer, president, Asia Pacific, at Honeywell Aerospace, one of the world's largest manufacturers of aircraft engines and avionics.

Honeywell, which provides four essential systems for the C919,created two joint ventures in China.

Alongside the Flight Automatic Control Research Institute in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, the company is building the plane's flight-control system, and with Hunan Boyun New Materials Co Ltd in Hunan province, its wheels and braking system.

"China's aerospace industry is growing faster than anywhere in the world," said Greer. "Honeywell is encouraged by this, and sees the C919 as a sign of great things ahead."

Most of the ventures created specifically for the C919, however, are already carrying out work, too, for other aircraft companies around the world.

For instance, Thales Cetc Avionics Co Ltd,-a 50-50 partnership based in Chengdu, Sichuan province, between China Electronics Technology Group Corp, also known as Cetc, and Thales Group, the French avionics giant-delivered its first product in late September, a display device for the Airbus A320 aircraft.

Zeng Li, assistant chief engineer at Cetc, said although the company was created in 2013 to produce the C919's in-flight entertainment systems, it is targeting its technology at all single-aisle aircraft manufacturers.

Li said Thales Cetc has the capacity to produce entertainment systems for 200 single-aisle aircraft annually, and expects orders for the C919, and for the United States aviation firm Boeing Co, to be delivered by the end of next year.

Another jointly owned operation created for the C919 project is Xi'an AVIC Hamilton Sundstrand Aviation Electric Co Ltd.

The collaboration between UTC Aerospace Systems, the aerospace systems business unit of US-based United Technologies, and China's AVIC Electromechanical Co Ltd, was created primarily to produce electronics for the C919.

"The site has been manufacturing electronic power-distribution panels for its legacy program for well over a year," said Hou Xiaofan, UTC's general manager in China. It has been also making other components for customers in North America.

But UTC Aerospace System is also providing other systems for the C919, including fire protection, cockpit control and de-icing.

"We are sharing our experience in system integration with COMAC," Hou said.

Some foreign suppliers have transferred their technology completely to their joint ventures in China.

Aviage Systems, established by China's Aviation Industry Corporation and the US' General Electric in 2012, is providing various avionics packages for the C919, including those using GE's flight-management, flight-deck display and flight-recording systems.

Alan Jones, Aviage's president and CEO, said as part of the original agreement, GE transferred the IP for a jointly developed computer system and integrated modular avionics technology to Aviage.

"Different from other joint ventures, Aviage Systems owns the core technology. We are developing integrated modular avionics architecture which is considered the best in class in the industry today, " said Jones.

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