The Chinese dream.

I had a pleasant surprise on a recent trip to Shanghai when told that Comac would be happy to bring me on a tour of its facilities.


“The only way you’ll understand our company is to see for yourself what we’re doing,” says the official who has kindly agreed to spend his Sunday with me.


Comac was set up in 2008 with key businesses drawn from state-owned conglomerate AVIC. This followed a 2007 government decision to develop China’s first large commercial aircraft.


Being a four-year-old firm however means that besides having to handle the development of its aircraft programmes, Comac also has the added pressure of making sure it has the necessary infrastructure to support the programmes.


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Our first stop was to the Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute where construction was just completed in July. This is where the engineering design of the aircraft programmes will take place.


IMG_1745.jpgI was also shown the Final Assembly Center, where the assembly of the C919 will take place. This 4,000 acre site is near Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. 


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Since the groundbreaking ceremony in 2010, 600 workers from five different construction firms have been working feverishly to get the site ready in time to help the C919 meet its 2014 first flight target.


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While the focus is now on getting the narrowbody assembly centre up and running, Comac has also set aside land on the site for a twin-aisle aircraft component and assembly facility. 


Pointing to the construction, the official also emphasized that at this point it’s “unrealistic” to compare Comac with Boeing and Airbus. For one, Comac doesn’t even have the infrastructure required up and running. China being a relative rookie in this field, also lacks aviation talent.


There is however an energy among the Comac employees I interacted with which is hard to ignore. Many of them have been with the company since day one and shares its vision of getting a Chinese built aircraft flying. China may not be an aerospace superpower now, but those who know China know better than to bet against it.


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