China made a low-key but historic debut of its C919 civilian jet at its biggest air show on Tuesday, with some delegates unable to attend the scaled-down event due to Beijing’s zero-Covid policy as cases they hit the highest level in six months.
In a reminder of the ongoing health crisis holding back China’s return to global aviation, organizers of the China Airshow in the southern city of Zhuhai had urged attendees to arrive three days early due to Covid precautions -19.
Even then, some were prevented from joining on the first day because they had visited a district in Beijing that had positive cases last week, three attendees said.
A China-based executive at a Western engine maker said many Beijing-based delegates had gone home frustrated, although some were able to get in at the last minute.
Organizers did not respond to a request for comment.
China’s zero-Covid policy has hamstrung its domestic aviation industry and kept international traffic at a tiny fraction of pre-pandemic levels as Western carriers rebound sharply.
The zero-Covid policy comes amid a wider decoupling from the West as China seeks to increase self-sufficiency amid the effects of tough export sanctions imposed on Russian aviation after the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow.
“Zhuhai is of great interest to China’s aviation watchers, and missing the show is a significant missed opportunity for those seeking to understand China’s opaque commercial and defense aerospace sectors,” said Greg Waldron, editor-in-chief Asia of FlightGlobal.
Tuesday’s opening marked the first time that Western aircraft giants Airbus and Boeing have shared the stage with China’s new COMAC C919 single-aisle aircraft at the main event.
The recently certified homegrown rival to the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX took part in the show’s flight display for the first time, performing sharp 45-degree turns in green, white and blue colors.
Earlier, four J-20 stealth fighter jets passed in close formation.
Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) reported orders from leasing companies for 300 C919 regional jets and 30 ARJ21s.
As with previous announcements, it was not immediately clear how many were firm orders or expressions of interest. COMAC plans to deliver the first C919 to China Eastern in December.
Analysts say it will be some time before the C919 cracks open an entrenched Airbus-Boeing market duopoly outside China, but Tuesday’s display marked a turning point 10 years after the first orders were placed in the same event.
By contrast, the sun set in China on Tuesday on one of Europe’s most visible global symbols, the double-decker A380.
Tracking website FlightRadar24 said on Tuesday that China Southern Airlines operated its last A380 flight from Los Angeles. The airline did not respond to a request for comment.
Production of the world’s largest airliner ended last year after weak sales, including a near-failure to conquer the Chinese market. An auction of A380 parts was held in France last month.
Analysts say, however, that Airbus is enjoying strong demand for the best-selling A320neo, boosted by US tensions that have delayed renewed Boeing MAX deliveries following a security crisis.
Airbus formally booked an order for 40 A320neo family aircraft from Boeing operator Xiamen Airlines on Tuesday.
Chinese observers said the airline’s decision to ease its reliance on Boeing was seen as particularly symbolic after Chinese leader Xi Jinping toured the cockpit of a larger Xiamen 787 on a visit to Boeing’s factory in the Seattle area in 2015.
Europe also made further inroads with the certification for the Chinese markets of its ATR 42-600 turboprop after a long wait.
The show unfolded against the backdrop of rising tensions between China and Taiwan after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August, sparking massive Chinese military exercises at a time when that the world is also on edge because of the conflict in Ukraine.
The state-owned Global Times reported that a new anti-drone defense system built around the HQ-17AE short-range air defense missile complex would make its debut in Zhuhai as a countermeasure to the low, slow and small drones that they are difficult to identify and attack. traditional anti-aircraft systems.
China is also showing off a model FH-97A “Loyal Wingman” drone designed to coordinate with manned aircraft, the newspaper reported. The aircraft is different from the FH-97 concept that was first shown last year.
The FH-97 is almost identical to the Kratos Defense and Security Solutions XQ-58A Valkyrie, which first flew in 2019, while the FH-97A is more similar to Boeing’s Australian-developed MQ-28 Ghost Bat, the photographs indicate.
“Early images from the show suggest it will once again be a major bazaar of Chinese UAV technology, including what appear to be mock-ups of unmanned combat aircraft that could one day accompany Chinese J-20 fighters into combat,” he said. said Waldron.
“However, it can be very difficult to understand whether the various UAV models at the show represent real programs with Chinese military investment.”