Comac C919 is a twin-engine, short-to-medium range, narrowbody Chinese airliner manufactured by the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd. (COMAC). Meant to compete in the market for single-aisle jets, the Chinese carrier seeks to end the duopoly of well-established Boeing and Airbus narrowbodies. If we look at the development timeline of the homegrown Chinese carrier, the C919 program was launched in 2008. Although the initial plan was to get C919 to the air by 2014 and commercialize it by 2016, its development wasn’t without complications.
Due to several technical difficulties and supply issues, the C919 aircraft took its maiden flight only on 5 May 2017. The aircraft underwent flight-test grounding in 2018 for modifications, pushing the introduction schedule from 2020 to 2021 for China Eastern Airlines. The lack of technical expertise, difficulties in the supply of spare parts, and tightening of US export control due to alleged military ties all culminated in the launch delay of the C919 aircraft.
Against all odds and issues, COMAC completed the flight test program of its planes and received the type certificate for the C919 in Beijing Ceremony on 29 September 2022. The type certification of C919 from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) marks a significant step forward for China’s entry into the commercial aviation market and an opportunity to evolve into a triopoly over the coming years.
COMAC plans to deliver a single C919 to its launch customer, China Eastern Airlines, by the end of 2022, down from the initial forecast for three units. So far, the narrowbody C919 has received 169 firm orders from 20+ companies. To this date, all purchasing airlines or lessors are China-based, as COMAC hasn’t been able to entice European and US customers.
What’s happening with C919 these days?
The Chinese state-owned aerospace manufacturer COMAC is preparing to show off its newest narrowbody jet, C919, at the country’s biggest air show, where 740 businesses are expected to take part (online +offline). The highly-anticipated Comac C919 will make a public appearance for the first time at the upcoming China airshow in the southern city of Zhuhai.
As the domestic twinjet has never flown publicly, COMAC will conduct the first C919 flight demonstration at China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition. China’s biggest airshow will run for six days from 8 November to 13 November 2022-the first three days are open to industry practitioners, and the last three days are public. Following the allocated time slot, Comac C919 will fly for 15 minutes each of the six days.
Comac C919 specifications
Backed by unprecedented government support, Comac C919 heads into a new generation as a competent challenger to the best-selling European Airbus A320 and the US Boeing 737 Max aircraft. China is up for the challenge with C919 to gain a considerable market share in the global commercial aviation sector. The development of C919 marks a major milestone and the beginning of a new era in Chinese air travel as the country makes efforts to underscore reliance on homegrown technologies.
Powered by CFM International LEAP or ACAE CJ-1000A turbofan engines, Comac C919 can cruise at the speed of 0.785 Mach and carry 156-168 passengers up to a maximum range of 5,555km (3000nmi). The aircraft’s airframe is primarily constructed of aluminum alloys by Chinese Avic, and the wing is a supercritical design with 20% more aerodynamic efficiency. The fuel capacity of C919 is 24,917 liters (6,582 US gal) which is less than that of A320ceo (27,200 liters).
Comac C919’s direct competitor Airbus A320 (CEO), is powered by two CFM56-5s or IAE C2500s and can accommodate 140-170 passengers in a typical seating 2-class configuration with a typical range of 3,300 nmi/6100km. The European aerospace giant Airbus has stretched A320 over time with later models (A320 neo) seating up to 194 passengers in a typical low-cost configuration. The range of the latest version, A320 neo, is increased to 6300km, and the maximum fuel capacity is 26,730 liters.
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The other competitor, Boeing 737 Max, is powered by efficient CFM International LEAP-1B engines and can fly at the cruising speed of Mach 0.9 up to the range of 3,850 nmi (7,130 km). The earliest B737 Max 7 can carry a maximum of 172 passengers, while the newest B737 Max 10 model can accommodate up to 230 passengers.
Regarding range, efficiency, and seating capacity, C919 falls short of A320 and Boeing 737 Max variants. It will surely be a tough sell outside China. Still, if it succeeds in exceeding performance expectations, it can be a major hit in China (a large aviation market) and Asian markets.