Editor’s Comment: New competition, cyber war and Comac

LARA editor Glenn Sands provides a summary of the latest happenings across the low-fare airline and regional aviation industry.


On 24 October, the fifth prototype of China’s home-built narrowbody passenger jet, a C919 (coded 105), completed its first flight from Shanghai Pudon International Airport, demonstrating that manufacturer Comac’s flight-test programme remains on track for 2019.

This is the penultimate aircraft of six, which are scheduled to participate in flight trials until the end of this year. Prototype 105 remained airborne for one hour and 37 minutes and will be the airframe that will undergo cold and hot weather testing. Engineering teams will carry out testing on the C919’s drainage system, electrical supply and other test bed items.

Amid the fanfare in China, it now appears likely that the nation will have its first home-built narrowbody airliner in widespread service within the next two to four years. But accusations from the US and from technology company CrowdStrike allege Beijing co-ordinated an elaborate cyber-espionage campaign against several foreign aircraft manufacturers that worked on, and supplied, Comac’s C919 components. Since the alleged cyberattack took place, Comac’s chief technology officer, Yang Zhigang, has denied the claims in an interview with South China Post. He said that the rising tensions between the US and China might well see American suppliers “restricted” from doing business with Comac.

As yet, CrowdStrike has not made public evidence showing that its network was attacked by China, but the claim has fired a warning shot to aircraft manufacturers currently developing aircraft within a similar class.

It was only last year that Bombardier and Mitsubishi were in court, with the former claiming that technology had been transferred unfairly when employees moved to the Japanese aircraft manufacturer and took sensitive engineering details with them.

As the regional and LCC airline market outpaces the established big long-haul operators in growth, it appears aircraft manufacturers will have to be far more guarded with their innovations and technology breakthroughs, just as many defence companies are. I just wonder what impact this may have in terms of future media announcements at events such as Farnborough and Paris.

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