The end of May 2023 marked the maiden commercial flight of China’s first jet airliner: the Comac C919. In the carefully planned symbolic event, China Eastern Airlines flight MU9191 took off from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport – where then-US President Richard Nixon first arrived during his tour of China. in 1972 – to land in Beijing.
Billed as Beijing’s answer to the American Boeing 737 and European versions of the Airbus A320, the twin-aisle regional jet aims to meet the needs of the Chinese domestic market and the potential Asian market.
Although the flight was marketed by Beijing as proof of China’s achievements in aircraft technology, it also sparked debates over the incorporation of American components and allegations of intellectual property theft in the design and the construction of the COMAC aircraft.
Still, observers say, the C919 is China’s newest foreign policy tool, much like how the Douglas DC-3 revolutionized former US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s aviation diplomacy.
Real air diplomacy
Probably no other aircraft shaped international aviation policy after World War II as much as the DC-3.
Recognized as the backbone of logistics during the war, the DC-3 was also among the first commercial passenger-only airliners.
It had a long range with comfortable seats – for the time, at least – which allowed it to operate passenger flights without relying on cargo mail to remain profitable.
China’s new C919 holds similar potential for President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy, offering striking parallels to Roosevelt’s use of US DC-3s. The C919 carries symbolic value for China’s foray into great power policy toward international aviation. Xi undoubtedly aims to leverage C919 to strengthen diplomatic ties and promote Beijing’s global influence.
Currently, only Chinese regional airlines have ordered the C919, with the intention of using them for short domestic routes. For Beijing to parade the plane as a technological success and a symbol of international prestige, the C919 must be operated by airlines beyond China.
This article is originally published on laquotidienne.fr