Not long ago, American and European aircraft companies were competing for the opportunity to break into the Chinese marketplace. Those days may soon be over, now that China’s first large jetliner recently completed its first flight.
The C919 is China’s inaugural, domestically-built large jetliner. The jet took off from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, equipped with a five-person crew and no passengers, landing about an hour later after what was a blissfully uneventful trip. That first run, China hopes, is the first of many. Though it does have a lot more testing to do before the jet will be ready to compete against American and European jetliner manufacturers.
So, yes, China is getting late to the party, but they are also joining a very small field of countries who have built their own big jets, including the United States, Russia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany, and France. At this point in the game, the US and European companies are still competing hard for business in China. But upstart Comac, China’s commercial aircraft manufacturer, is ready to enter the competition.
And they’ve picked the right place to start. Comac’s aircraft is roughly the size and capacity of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, two of the most popular jetliners in the world. This popularity mirrors demand for these jets, a demand Comac hopes to help meet. And they started their push with a strong PR move.
Comac’s maiden flight was watched by about two million people via the microblogging platform Weibo. During the program, Comac opened up the “inside view” of the jet and let viewers into the cockpit, with an over-the-shoulder view of the pilots in action. This is something, according to at least one media source, that neither Airbus nor Boeing has ever allowed.
That move, coupled with the strong nationalist fervor to promote Chinese-made products should encourage the massive Chinese market to at least keep an eye on Comac as the company continues its tests. If they can continue to engage with potential customers while keeping consumers excited about their activities, that should give Comac a nice toehold in the industry, when they choose to start selling.
Of course, it will take more than savvy PR to get this jetliner company off the ground. They will need to lure customers away from the Big Two in the industry while also cutting out a big chunk of the massive Chinese market for aircraft in one of the world’s most explosive economies.
Ronn Torossian is a PR maverick and the CEO of 5W PR in NYC.