February 9, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

China stages historic air show under zero-COVID cloud


BEIJING — China held a low-key but historic debut of its C919 civilian jet at its largest air show on Tuesday, with some delegates unable to attend the scaled-down event due to Beijing’s zero-COVID policy as cases hit the highest level in six months .

Recalling the ongoing health crisis slowing China’s return to global aviation, organizers of Airshow China in the southern city of Zhuhai had urged attendees to arrive three days early due to the precautionary measures for the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Even then, some were denied participation on day one because last week they visited a Beijing district that had seen positive cases, three participants told Reuters.

A China-based executive at a Western engine maker said many of the Beijing-based delegates returned home frustrated, although some were let in at the last minute.

Organizers did not respond to a request for comment.

China’s zero-COVID policy has hampered its domestic aviation industry, keeping international traffic at a tiny fraction of pre-pandemic levels while Western airlines recover strongly.

The zero-COVID policy comes amid a broader decoupling from the West as China seeks greater self-reliance amid the impact of tough export sanctions imposed on Russian aviation following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Zhuhai is of great interest to Chinese aviation observers, and missing the show is a significant missed opportunity for those seeking to understand China’s opaque commercial and military aerospace sectors,” said Greg Waldron, Asia Editor-in-Chief, FlightGlobal.

Tuesday’s opening marked the first time Western aircraft giants Airbus and Boeing have shared the stage with China’s new COMAC C919 single-aisle jet at the Showpiece event.

The newly certified domestic rival of 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 livery.

Four J-20 stealth fighter jets raced past in close formation.

The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) announced orders from lessors for 300 C919 and 30 ARJ21 regional jets.

As with previous announcements, it wasn’t immediately clear how many were firm orders or expressions of interest. COMAC plans the first C919 delivery to China Eastern in December.

Analysts say it will be some time before the C919 breaks an entrenched Airbus-Boeing market duopoly outside of China, but Tuesday’s presentation marked a turning point 10 years after the first orders were unveiled at the same event.

In contrast, the sun set on one of Europe’s most visible global icons, the A380 double-decker, in China on Tuesday.

Tracking website FlightRadar24 said China Southern Airlines operated its final A380 flight from Los Angeles on Tuesday. The airline did not respond to a request for comment.

Production of the world’s largest jet aircraft ended last year after weak sales, including a near failure to break into the Chinese market. An auction of A380 parts was held in France last month.

However, analysts say Airbus is enjoying buoyant demand for the best-selling A320neo, buoyed by tensions in the US that have delayed Boeing MAX deliveries again following a safety crisis.

Airbus on Tuesday officially booked an order for 40 A320neo Family jets from Xiamen Airlines, an all-Boeing operator.

China observers said the airline’s decision to ease its reliance on Boeing was seen as particularly symbolic after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the cockpit of a larger Xiamen 787 during a visit to Boeing’s Seattle-area factory in 2015 .

After a long wait, Europe has also made new progress with the approval of its ATR 42-600 turboprop for the Chinese market.

The show came amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei in August, sparking huge Chinese military exercises at a time when the world is also on edge over the Ukraine conflict is.

The state-run 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 for low, slow and small drones that are difficult to identify and attack are conventional air defense systems.

China is also showing an FH-97A “Loyal Wingman” drone model designed to coordinate with manned aircraft, the newspaper reported. The aircraft differs from the FH-97 concept that was first shown last year.

The FH-97 is nearly identical to the US-developed Kratos Defense and Security Solutions XQ-58A Valkyrie, which first flew in 2019, while the FH-97A looks more like the MQ-28 Ghost Bat developed by Boeing in Australia, according to photos demonstrate.

“Initial images from the show suggest it will be yet another grand bazaar of Chinese UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology, including what appears to be replica unmanned aerial vehicles that could one day accompany Chinese J-20 fighters into combat said Mr. Waldron.

“Nonetheless, it can be very difficult to understand whether the various UAV models at the show represent genuine Chinese military investment programs.” – Reuters