China's COMAC learns plane building isn't easy

Wed Feb 12, 2014 7:47am EST
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By Siva Govindasamy

SINGAPORE Feb 12 (Reuters) - Chinese planemaker COMAC is learning the hard way as it tries to compete with heavyweights Airbus and Boeing in developing a narrow-body aircraft, apparently exposed to the perils of the supply chain and program management issues.

Advance orders for Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd's C919 have slowed to a trickle, with the company setting a modest target of 30 orders for this year. Total orders for China's only homegrown commercial jet last year stood at 400.

The C919's first flight was originally scheduled for 2014, but it has been delayed until end-2015 at the earliest as the state-owned company copes with the difficulties of embarking on an aircraft development program virtually from scratch.

A senior official at engine-maker CFM, the sole supplier of engines for the C919, says most of COMAC's difficulties can simply be put down to inexperience.

COMAC, founded in 2008, is tasked with assembling China's first large commercial aircraft.

"I think they need really more experienced program management and they're poking around and trying to find that experience and bring that in-house," Chaker Chahrour, executive vice-president at CFM, told reporters at the Singapore Airshow.

"Building an airplane is not an easy task. It requires a lot of work with a lot of suppliers. I think they have some difficulty with some suppliers and bringing them all to the same party at the same time has been a little bit difficult, and that is why they announced a delay to the first flight."

The order and delivery of parts for new aircraft is highly complicated, and delays or other technical problems can bring development to standstill.   Continued...