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Originally published Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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China's next goal: soaring past 737

Models of Chinese-made helicopters and small jets fill the aviation pavilion at Expo, built to show the country's "soaring aspirations. " Next in line: a large commercial airplane.

Seattle Times business reporter

Models of Chinese-made helicopters and small jets fill the aviation pavilion at Expo, built to show the country's "soaring aspirations." Next in line: a large commercial airplane.

Even Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney acknowledges that the era of two aircraft rivals dominating the skies is almost over.

China is gearing up to manufacture its first large passenger plane, the C919, a single-aisle jet that will seat up to 190 people and is scheduled to take flight in 2014.

That means new pressure for Boeing and its Renton-built 737, but it also could open some doors for local aerospace suppliers.

China's growing domestic airlines, a key market for Boeing and Airbus, are likely customers.

A large passenger aircraft is "the jewel of modern manufacturing" and "will bring significant progress in a number of basic disciplines," said a spokesman for COMAC, the government consortium that leads the C919 project.

But it faces major hurdles, analysts say.

"There's a whole realm of technology and manufacturing acumen that isn't going to be available in China," said Bill King, an aerospace specialist at the Washington State Department of Commerce.

The country already has shown it can create a successful auto industry, and eventually "they're going to be a formidable competitor," King said, "but they need technology from the global marketplace if they're going to be competitive with Boeing and Airbus, who are taking the best technologies from all over the world."

About 30 Washington companies have expressed interest in supplying to the Chinese project, King said. Because of concerns over intellectual property, they are taking a cautious approach, he added, not offering their most advanced technology.

COMAC said it has signed agreements with Kirkland-based Hamilton Sundstrand, as well as GE, Parker Aerospace, Honeywell, Goodrich and others.

"With the C919 project, China Commercial Aircraft Company's cooperation with some of Washington's aviation and aerospace enterprises will be more in-depth, extensive and lasting," COMAC's spokesman said.

— Kristi Heim, Seattle Times business reporter

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