BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s planned wide-body jet joint venture with Russia will see a higher proportion of work from Chinese suppliers, though for key systems like avionics it will still rely mostly on western manufacturers, the jet’s chief designer said.
China has been plowing billions of dollars into developing jets to raise its profile in global aviation and to disrupt the current Boeing Co (BA.N) and Airbus SE (AIR.PA) duopoly, most recently with its C919 narrrowbody aircraft. It has also been vocal about wanting to support local industry.
“Western suppliers need not be too worried,” said Chen Yingchun, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’s (COMAC’s) chief designer for the C929 wide-body program with Russia’s United Aircraft Corp.
There will be more Chinese contribution to the C929 project, compared with the C919, “but all systems, like signaling, won’t be affected”, Chen said on the sidelines of an aviation conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
Overseas suppliers like Honeywell International Inc (HON.N) and Safran SA (SAF.PA) were instrumental in the making of China’s C919 jet. The plane took its maiden flight in May and 730 orders have been placed to date, mostly by Chinese parties.
In the same month, the C929 wide-body joint venture (JV) was set up with am aim to eventually take 10 percent of the global market dominated by the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350.
The JV partners are currently in the “joint concept design” stage for the C929 and are figuring out how to balance the work share, Chen said. China, at present, is responsible for the plane’s body and tail, he added.
The project is on track to seek bids for the engine by year-end, he said. Rolls Royce (RR.L) and General Electric (GE.N), who also supply wide-body jets, are expected to be contenders, but China is also trying to develop its own version with Russia.
Chen also said the JV was looking to build half of the C929 using composite materials, versus C919’s 10 percent, and that talks were underway with European, U.S. and Chinese suppliers who were willing to set up facilities close to COMAC’s Shanghai headquarters to do so.
The JV partners aim to complete the C929’s maiden flight and first delivery over 2025-2028.
COMAC’s first two passenger plane projects, the ARJ21 and C919, were, however, far behind schedule with the ARJ21 entering service last year, eight years after it took its first flight.
A spokesman for COMAC told Reuters the C919 would take its second flight by the end of this year.
China is the world’s fastest growing aviation market. U.S. planemaker Boeing expects Chinese airlines to buy more than 7,000 jets worth $1.1 trillion over 20 years as they grow their fleets to meet robust demand for travel.
Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Himani Sarkar