It was a ceremony that was supposed to have happened exactly twelve months ago, but today, COMAC finally delivered the first C919 to China Eastern Airlines. It marks a new chapter in the history of Chinese aviation, which will be closely followed by Western OEMs. China Eastern finally gets its first COMAC C919.
After the speeches and formal handover during a ceremony in COMAC’s production facility in Shanghai Pudong, the curtains were slowly moved to reveal the C919 with its plain-white CE-livery. The aircraft has registration B-919A which was previously known as B001J and was used as a demonstrator by the factory.
Covid played a major role in the delay of the C919 program in the past two years. Instead of being certified in 2021, the Civil Aviation Authorities of China (CAAC) only rubberstamped all the certification documents on September 29 during an event in Beijing that got very little media exposure. In November, and again on the 29th, COMAC was given the production certificate to officially launch production of the aircraft. Which has been in full swing for some time, of course.
After the ceremony, B-919A made the short hop from Pudong to Shanghai Hongqiao, where she was welcomed with a water salute in what was already a rainy airport. Here again, she was welcomed by a small delegation of China Eastern.
Under the hashtag #MeetUinC919 and a number of videos, China Eastern is alerting its customers that it is the launch customer of the new airliner. But the airline hasn’t said when it will welcome passengers on the aircraft, which has eight Business Class and 156 Economy Class seats. First, it will likely do some route-proving flights to get the crew fully familiar with the type, although China Eastern and COMAC have prepared the introduction for some time in a joint working group. CE has been involved in the design of the aircraft from the start.
The airline will probably also want to have some more C919s to give its operations with the type some resilience. So far, China Eastern is the only airline that has confirmed a purchase contract, signing a contract for the first batch of five C919s in March 2021. The remaining four aircraft are due in 2023. China Eastern said before that it plans to operate the type from Shanghai to Beijing Daxing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xiamen, Wuhan, and Qingdao.
During the Airshow China in Zhuhai in November, COMAC announced confirmed orders from seven Chinese lessors for 300 C919s and thirty ARJ21 regional jets. This would take orders to 1.115.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.