More than two weeks since the Eastern Airlines crash happened, China Eastern Airlines has grounded 223 Boeing 737-800 passenger planes. At the same time, there were voices on the mainland’s internet that said this was an opportunity for another Chinese domestic aircraft, the C919.
According to Boeing data, the new generation of Boeing 737-800 in this crash is the mainstay of the aviation industry. With nearly 5,000 units between 1998 and 2020, Boeing says this is far more than any other number of commercial jets Boeing has sold.
China is a big market for Boeing, as well as for the 737 families. According to Cirium, About 17% of the 25,000 passenger planes in use worldwide are Boeing’s new generation 737-800, of which China has nearly 1,200, followed by Europe with almost 1,000 and the U.S. with nearly 800.
At the same time, China is also the second-largest market for Boeing aircraft, after the U.S. Last year, Boeing also predicted that by 2040, China’s commercial aircraft volume would double.
However, the quality of the C919 is a mystery, and the aircraft’s engine is still imported.
In 2008, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC), developed the C919, “a narrow-body jet that China hopes will become its alternative to Boeing’s 737 and Airbus’s A320.” COMAC is also connected to China’s military.
According to the U.S. government report, the C919 aircraft is roughly half its competitors’ cost and completed its first maiden flight in May 2017 after years of delays due to design flaws.
The C919 is also controversial, as the plane is not 100% made in China; American companies supply about 60% of the plane’s parts.
Scott Kennedy, chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) board of directors, says, “It is misleading to call the C919 a Chinese plane.” “Almost all of its components, including everything that keeps the plane aloft, are imported.”
According to Airframer, which monitors the primary suppliers for commercial aircraft worldwide, “American companies account for almost three-fifths of the C919’s top suppliers. Almost one-third hail from Europe. Only 14 key suppliers are from China, and seven of those are Chinese-foreign joint ventures.”
The LEAP-1C engine used on the C919 was developed and manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and Safran of France. In early 2020, the U.S. government considered stopping licensing CFM International to export LEAP-1C engines to China.
Then, in December 2020, the U.S. requested special permits to export parts and technical support to any company with ties to the Chinese military. Of course, this claim is directly related to the C919, which belongs to COMAC.
U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported on February 17 that it cited a series of indictments demonstrating how the CCP used hackers to close critical technological vulnerabilities. After entering into joint ventures with the U.S. and E.U. companies, companies linked to the Chinese government will set up cyber intrusion campaigns to steal designs and other foreign manufactured components.
In 2015, hackers attacked the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), resulting in the theft of the personal information of a large number of people. The report said the attack was related to the C919 plane.
Turbine Panda, a Chinese intellectual property theft operation group, also conducted cyber intrusions between 2010 and 2015, targeting various aerospace firms that made up the supply chain for foreign-sourced parts for China’s C919 airliner.
Specifically, in December 2009, COMAC announced that it had selected CFM International to supply the C919’s custom variant LEAP-1C engine.
Despite the early agreement with CFM, both COMAC and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) took on a task from a Chinese government agency to build a turboprop engine that was “domestically generated” like LEAP-X.
After that, Both COMAC and AVIC became the principal shareholders of Aviation Engine Corporation of China (AECC) in August 2016.
In the same year, AECC introduced the CJ-1000AX engine for the C919 aircraft. Notably, The CJ-1000AX bears multiple similarities to the LEAP-1C, including its dimensions and turbofan blades.
China’s Turbine Panda cyber targeting of aerospace companies began in January 2010, almost immediately after the LEAP-X engine was selected for the C919.
Currently, the Chinese government’s attacks on foreign airlines have not stopped. At the same time, the C919 has not yet achieved complete success and is many years away from becoming a purely domestic passenger aircraft.
According to Reuters, COMAC’s C919 aircraft has received 815 provisional orders, but very few from airlines or leasing companies outside of China.
Thus, China can replace Boeing with the C919. However, the origin history of the C919 will probably make its customers consider whether to use Boeing or the C919.