C919: China’s rise as global player in aviation

By Yasir Habib Khan | Gwadar Pro May 31, 2023

Editor's Note: The author is President of the Institute of International Relations and Media Research (IIRMR). The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.

On May 28, the first successful commercial flight of home-made C919 passenger aircraft marked a new start of China's civil aviation commercial operation.

When the world is influenced by Airbus and Boeing’s duopoly in decades, C919 took the first step to challenge the existing situation. The strenuous devotion that led to the development of the C919 aircraft has been a demonstration of China's unwavering commitment to achieving technological superiority in aircraft manufacturing. Over the course of the past half century, Beijing has invested a significant amount of time and energy in the homegrown production of big passenger aircraft.  

China's technical capabilities have been progressively improved as a result of the country's policy of placing a high priority on research and development in critical sectors such as the production of new materials, electronic information, machinery manufacturing, automation, and high-end equipment.  

China has ensured that the C919 must adhere to stringent international airworthiness standards by harnessing the knowledge of both domestic and international suppliers, including well-known corporations such as General Electric, Honeywell, and Rockwell Collins. This allowed China to meet the stringent requirements for international aviation standards.  

In addition,  C919 anticipated annual manufacturing capacity of 150 planes during the next five years. Besides, it already has an excellent order book of over 1,200 aircraft. 

The successful maiden flight of the C919 passenger plane and the growth of China's aviation industry serve as significant contributors to the goals outlined in the Made in China 2025 policy. The C919's development showcases China's commitment to innovation and the use of advanced technology in manufacturing.  

China's commitment to enhancing its aviation infrastructure is evident in the rising number of airports. As of last year, the Chinese mainland boasted 254 commercial airports, marking a growth of six airports from the previous year. Additionally, the number of general airports increased by 29 to reach a total of 399. This expansion not only facilitates domestic connectivity but also strengthens China's position as a global aviation hub. 

The substantial growth of China's aviation industry is further underscored by the increase in fleet size and the operation of numerous air routes. By the end of last year, China had a remarkable fleet of 4,165 aircraft, representing an addition of 111 aircraft compared to the previous year. The country operated a total of 4,670 scheduled air routes, encompassing 4,334 domestic routes and 336 international routes. This extensive air route network allows for efficient transportation both within China and to destinations around the world. 

The Chinese aviation industry's growth is also supported by a growing pool of skilled pilots. The number of pilots in China reached an impressive 57,854 by the end of last year, with an increase of 2,277 pilots compared to the previous year. This surge in pilot numbers demonstrates the industry's commitment to training and developing a highly capable workforce.

China's aviation industry is not only expanding domestically but also establishing fruitful collaborations globally. By the end of 2022, China had established bilateral airworthiness relations with 40 countries and regions, with a total of 191 bilateral airworthiness documents in effect. This signifies the mutual recognition of each other's aviation safety standards, fostering international cooperation and facilitating smoother international air travel. Additionally, China has signed 129 bilateral air transport agreements, which promote the growth of air connectivity and support the expansion of the Chinese aviation industry on a global scale. 

The achievements and developments within China's aviation industry point towards a future filled with promise and potential. With a strong focus on infrastructure development, fleet expansion, and skilled workforce augmentation, the country is well-positioned to become a global leader in air transport.

A report from the International Air Transport Association published in CGTN has said that China will overtake the US to become the world's largest aviation market by 2024. The report from the Montreal-based trade association also states that China is set to almost double its number of air trips, with almost 930 million trips expected by 2025. In 2015, less than 500 million trips were made. This will make China the world's fastest growing market during that period. 

Under China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), China will open above 30 new civil airports and the civil aviation capacity will increase by 43 percent to 2 billion passenger trips.

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