(Bloomberg) -- The international debut of China’s homegrown C919 jet and the cost of going green by 2050 dominated the opening day of the Singapore Airshow — Asia’s most influential aerospace and defense exhibition.

Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, or Comac, signed a 40-plane deal with Tibet Airlines and won an endorsement from Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Air as an emerging rival to Boeing Co. and Airbus SE. “I’m sure they will build a world-beating aircraft in the next 10 years,” Riyadh Air’s Chief Operating Officer Peter Bellew said at the airshow. “I wouldn’t underestimate Comac for one minute. They will be a real force to be reckoned with.”

In other deal news, Royal Brunei Airlines signed an agreement to purchase four Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets, and Thai Airways confirmed an order for 45 Boeing 787-9 jets. 

Singapore’s plan to introduce a levy on air fares to pay for sustainable aviation fuel was also a hot topic of discussion, as the industry faces the cost of going net zero. International Air Transport Association Willie Walsh welcomed the move, saying it’s important the sector is “honest with people and make clear that the cost of transition to net zero will be expensive.”

Across 16 country pavilions, of which China and South Korea are making an appearance for the first time, high-profile exhibitors include Airbus Honeywell International Inc., GE Aerospace Inc. and military heavyweights Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. 

Key Developments

  • Boeing Calls Out Big Energy for Inaction on Sustainable Jet Fuel
  • Airlines’ Chief Pleads for More Green Fuel to Save Air Travel
  • Singapore Plans Sustainable Fuel Levy That Will Push Up Airfares

(All times Singapore) 

Autonomous Flights Planned by 2030 (4:08 p.m.)

Boeing-owned Wisk plans to operate commercial flights with autonomous four-passenger electric aircraft that take off and land vertically by 2030.

Wisk is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to get its aircraft certified, Catherine MacGowan, Wisk’s Vice President, Asia Pacific and Air Operations, said.

The aircraft has a range of 90 miles and can recharge in 15 minutes.

Starlux Orders Airbus Aircraft (3:45 p.m.)

Starlux Airlines ordered three A330neo widebodies from Airbus, as well as five 350 freighters, the companies jointly announced.

The Taiwanese airline expects the  A330neo deliveries in 2025 to 2026 and has options for five additional A350Fs. It also plans to add five or six Airbus A321neos via lease.

Boeing Sees Competition From C919 (2:33 p.m.)

Boeing expects to start competing with Comac’s C919 for aircraft sales and has factored in rivalry from the new China-made jet into demand forecasts.

“In terms of the C919, it’s a similar-sized airplane that both Boeing and Airbus produce and I think it will be something that airlines around the region may look at and consider,” Dave Schulte, Boeing’s commercial marketing managing director for the Asia-Pacific region, said Wednesday.

The C919, which is not certified outside of China, is almost as big as Boeing’s 737 Max and is set to face a number of hurdles.

Comac “will also have some of the growing challenges in terms of the support structures that they will have to overcome in order to continue to compete,” he said. “But for sure, the airplane is included in our forecast, in our long-term forecast, and it is an airplane that we will start to compete against.”

Sustainable Fuel Could Reach Price Parity (12 p.m.)

The price of sustainable aviation fuel can eventually be on par with conventional fuels should production volumes ramp up, according to Todd Giles, chief technology officer at Honeywell Aerospace. But hurdles remain to increasing output, including retrofitting refineries, he said.

The company’s ethanol jet fuel plant is on track to open in 2025 and will produce upwards of 250 million gallons of SAF per year, Giles said. It’s also investing in machinery that will allow jets to burn less fuel, he said.

Cebu Sees Growth (11:06 a.m.) 

Despite China not being fully back and some other international expansion plans, like to Saudi Arabia, not happening yet, Cebu Pacific Air Inc. sees capacity growth of between 10-12% this year, Chief Executive Officer Mike Szucs said Wednesday at the airshow.

“As we’ve gone into the first quarter of this year we’re actually now 6% ahead in terms of overall seats,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

Szucs also said the carrier is looking at a jet order size of “100 firm, topped up with options above that.” Discussions are about half-way through the process and Cebu Air anticipates a final announcement should be made around May or June.

Lagging on Net Zero (11 a.m.)

Airbus said the aviation industry is transitioning too slowly to meet its pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

There’s not enough sustainable aviation fuel to meet demand and most countries in Asia aren’t producing it, despite the region’s vast feedstock resources, Julie Kitcher, Airbus’s head of sustainability, said at the airshow on Wednesday.

A hydrogen-powered Airbus plane will start operations in 2035, though this form of propulsion will only significantly reduce carbon emissions in the following decades, she said.

Time to Decide (10:45 a.m.)

Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc urged planemakers to decide on the type of aircraft they want to develop in order for it to produce a new-generation engine that could cut fuel use by a further 10%. The UK-based engine maker, which makes powerplants for widebody jets such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner is continuing to develop its UltraFan technology.

“We do need the airframers to decide what that will be, will it be a new widebody? Will it be a re-engineering of a widebody? Or will it be a narrowbody application?” Chief Customer Officer Ewen McDonald said in an interview.

Embraer Expansion Plans (10:30 a.m.)

Embraer SA is mulling the potential to develop a larger single-aisle jet over the longer term that could compete with Boeing and Airbus. 

“We want to improve the financial performance further of the company to increase cash generation to be able in a couple of years to make a decision which way we want to go as a next product,” Chief Executive Officer Francisco Gomes Neto said in an interview at the Singapore Airshow.

The planemaker, which makes the popular regional E-Series and new-generation E2 jet, already produces the military C-390 Millennium jet, which it says has an identical width to a 737, while the longest E2 is similar to rival single-aisle jets.

Addicted to Business Jets (10:12 a.m.)

Demand for business jet flights, which increased during Covid as commercial airline operations ground to a halt, has continued, according to Carlos Brana, Dassault Aviation SA’s civil aircraft executive vice president.

“When you start using business aviation, you start being addicted,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “After the pandemic, demand continued because people realized that saving time is paramount for their businesses.”

The company is developing a longer-range jet, the 10X, which will be able to fly 7,500 nautical miles. It will be delivered in 2027, he said.

--With assistance from Avril Hong.

(An earlier version of the story corrected the spelling of company official’s name under ‘Time to Decide’.)

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