Airbus says competition from China’s Comac C919 won’t ‘rock the boat’

A commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac) C919 aircraft operated by China Eastern Airlines during the Singapore Airshow in Singapore, on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.

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SINGAPORE — China’s homegrown airliner may be the latest challenger to Airbus and Boeing’s passenger jets, but an executive from Airbus said he’s not worried.

The Comac C919 is “not going to rock the boat in particular,” Christian Scherer, chief executive officer of Airbus’s aircraft commercial business, said at a media roundtable on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow.

“It looks a bit like an Airbus narrow body,” Scherer said, tongue in cheek, noting that the C919 is “not very different” from what Airbus and Boeing already have in the market.

Scherer acknowledged that the C919 was a “legitimate effort” by China — but “the market is large enough for competition, we welcome the competition.”

China's Comac announces orders for its C919, ARJ21 planes

“We don’t want to stick our head in the sand … it’s a normal thing to see more competition,” Scherer added.  

Comac’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Touted as a competitor to Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus 320, the Comac C919 is a narrow body jet developed by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or Comac. It was certified by the Civil Aviation Administration of China in September 2022 and entered commercial service with China Eastern Airlines in May last year.

The Comac C919 uses the same engine as Airbus’s narrow body passenger jetliner the Airbus A320neo, powered by the CFM International LEAP engines.

Comac announced on the sidelines of the air show on Tuesday that it had signed a deal with China’s Tibet Airlines and finalized an order for 40 C919 and 10 ARJ21 jets from the Chinese aircraft maker.

The ARJ21 jet is a short to medium range turbofan plane which can fly shorter distances and is used for regional flights.

Even though the C919 is certified only by Chinese authorities, industry experts have said it could be an early competitor to the commercial aviation duopoly between Boeing and Airbus.

“The industry contacts we speak to believe the problems at Boeing, specifically the 737 Max, present an early opportunity for Comac,” Northcoast Research analyst Chris Olin previously told CNBC.

— CNBC’s Nessa Anwar contributed to this story.

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