This month is likely to be remembered for two big moments in Asia’s aviation history: the roll-out of the Comac C919 and the first flight of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ).
It is important to qualify this statement with 'likely', because the MRJ was supposed to get airborne years ago. This slipped to late October, and then, thanks to a last-minute change to the rudder pedals, this month.
In China and Japan, these aircraft are sources of immense national pride. Thousands trekked out to Comac’s sprawling production facility at Shanghai’s Pudong International airport for the C919’s unveiling.
Yet neither jet is set to dominate its segment. For example, when the C919 enters operation, tentatively around 2018, the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 Max would already be in service. Beyond mainland Chinese airlines that have no choice but to operate the C919, international carriers would remain dubious about the aircraft, which will struggle for overseas sales.
Mitsubishi has gained an impressive 223 orders since the MRJ’s launch in 2010. But Embraer’s re-engined E2 series has already surpassed that figure since its 2013 launch.
However, to underestimate either aircraft would be a mistake. Although aerospace’s centre of gravity is due to remain firmly in the West for decades to come, a none-too-subtle shift is already taking place.
Better late than never