The Chinese wanted to showcase their emerging aerospace industry at the Zhuhai this week and leaked that “hundreds” of would be forthcoming for the COMAC C919.

Reality fell far short.

On the first day of the show, the Chinese announced 100 “orders” for the airplane, which challenges the Boeing 737-800/900 and the Airbus A320/321. So far, on target. Six customers signed: the Big Three (Air China, China Eastern and China Southern) signed, as expected; Hainan did, too, a surprise, as did China Development Bank (not previously suspected) and GECAS (not previously suspected but no particular surprise, either, given GECAS’ prior order for 5+20 COMAC/AVIC regional jets).

But Aviation Week took a look under the hood, so-to-speak, and discovered the 100 were really just a dismal 55 from the six customers.

This is hardly an auspicious showing for the roll-out of the C919. Even if one accepts the options and the Letter of Intent as converting to firm orders, 100 is not the “hundreds” the Chinese advanced before the air show.

That the Big Three airlines only firmly ordered five C919s each is hardly a ringing endorsement of the program. Hainan’s firm order is much more interesting. The GECAS order is in keeping with our analysis of why GECAS ordered the ARJ-21, an order that has no commercial sense but which we regard as entirely strategic. The C919 potentially makes much more commercial sense but this is, we believe, clearly a strategic order for GECAS as well: GECAS’ sister, CFM International (/Snecma) launches the LEAP-X engine on the C919 and CFM has a joint venture with COMAC to develop the nacelles and other engine components for the C919, plus a commitment to help the Chinese develop an indigenous engine for the airplane. Even so, the GECAS order is almost a token.

We frankly expected more from COMAC at this air show.

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