2019 Outlook: COMAC’s slow but steady progress


COMAC claims just over 1,000 commitments for the C919—but firm orders number fewer than 400, according to the Airfinance Journal Fleet Tracker data base.

Flight testing for the C919, with just three airplanes, remains slow. But static testing, including the 150% wing fatigue test, continued.

Slow traction

Although COMAC boasts more than 1,000 commitments for the C919, the list is vastly over-dominated by leasing companies.

According to Fleet Tracker, just 55 of the 375 airplanes on firm order are from airlines—hardly a ringing endorsement of the C919.

Western leasing companies prefer to see a significant airline base for new aircraft before committing to an order, although there have been exceptions.

China’s Big 3 airlines—Air China, China Eastern and China Southern—each only ordered five. Financially troubled Hainan Airlines ordered 20.

Meantime, Airbus and Boeing continue to dominate by far orders within China.


Even well before the C919 enters service, China is taking on a much bigger project: the CR 929.

This 250-300 passenger twin aisle airplane is similar to the Airbus A330 and Boeing 787.

With its Boeing 787-like cockpit windows, Airbus A350 wing similarities and dimensions like the A350, the CR929 will be the new widebody entrant of China and Russia in the next decade. Photo via Google images.

Looking like a combination of the two airplanes in the model shown at the 2017 Paris Air Show, the China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Co. (CRAIC) joint venture wants to see EIS by 2025, six years from now. It’s an ambitious plan, given the long dates from the ARJ21 and C919. Even Airbus and Boeing have yet to meet this kind of timeline for a new airplane in the last 20 years, and these companies have been building aircraft for decades.

First flight is targeted in 2023, just four years from now. Range is forecast to be 6,480nm, well short of the competing 787-9 and A330-200/800.

According to Dr. David Pritchard, a professor who specialized in China, the country is going to need extra widebody lift.

“In the next 20 years, China is going to double its airports to 450   So my take, with military airspace restrictions and future growth with domestic air traffic, China might copy the Japanese model with using widebodies between major cities.”

Pritchard notes that China’s in-country 20-year forecast for widebody aircraft is 2,100 vs Airbus’ 1,100 and Boeing’s 1,600 and COMAC 2,100.

The panel-like composite fuselage, similar to the Airbus A350, will be built in China. The composite wing will be built in Russia. Out-of-autoclave production will be used.

Western Tier 1s are already signing up.

Joint Ventures

Boeing last month opened its first completion center outside the US, for the 737 in China as a JV with COMAC. The airplanes are assembled in the US and flown to China unpainted and without interiors.

This completion center gives COMAC valuable experience for its own programs.

Airbus opened an A330 completion center in 2017 in Tianjin, which is where it has an A320 final assembly line. Progress is slow. Plans were to reach two aircraft a month by early this year. Market intelligence indicates the center is struggling at rate 1/mo. Airbus did not reply to a request for a status update.


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