Airbus says competition with China's COMAC C919 will not rock the boat

  • Christian Scherer, CEO of Airbus' aircraft business, said the COMAC C919 was not much different from what Airbus and Boeing already had on the market, and it “wouldn't particularly rock the boat.”
  • “It's kind of like a narrow-body Airbus,” Shearer said, noting that the C919 is “not that different” from what Airbus and Boeing already have on the market.

A China Aircraft Corporation (COMAC) C919 commercial jet operated by China Eastern Airlines during the Singapore Air Show in Singapore, Tuesday, February 20, 2024.

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SINGAPORE – The Chinese domestic airline may be the latest competitor to passenger planes from Airbus and Boeing, but an Airbus executive said he is not worried.

The COMAC C919 “is not particularly going to rock the boat,” Christian Scherer, CEO of Airbus' aircraft business, said during a media roundtable on the sidelines of the Singapore Air Show.

“It's kind of like a narrow-body Airbus,” Shearer said, noting that the C919 is “not that different” from what Airbus and Boeing already have on the market.

Shearer acknowledged that the C919 was a “legitimate effort” by China – but that “the market is big enough to compete, and we welcome the competition.”

Shearer added, “We do not want to bury our heads in the sand. It is normal to see more competition.”

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

Described as a competitor to the Boeing 737 and Airbus 320, the COMAC C919 is a narrow-body jet developed by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or COMAC. It received certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China in September 2022 and entered commercial service with China Eastern Airlines in May last year.

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The COMAC C919 uses the same engine as Airbus's narrow-body jet, the Airbus A320neo, powered by CFM International LEAP engines.

COMAC announced on the sidelines of the air show on Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with China Tibet Airlines and finalized an order to purchase 40 C919 aircraft and 10 ARJ21 aircraft from the Chinese aircraft manufacturer.

The ARJ21 is a short to medium range turboprop aircraft that can fly shorter distances and is used for regional flights.

Although the C919 is only certified by Chinese authorities, industry experts said it could be an early challenger to the commercial aviation monopoly between Boeing and Airbus.

“The industry contacts we're talking to believe the issues at Boeing, specifically the 737 MAX, represent an early opportunity for Comac,” Northcoast Research analyst Chris Olin previously told CNBC.

— CNBC's Nissa Anwar contributed to this story.

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