COMAC C919 Ready for Take-Off

On 9 December 2022, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) successfully delivered its first ‘Made in China’ passenger jet to China Eastern Airlines in Shanghai. For this first aircraft, other than the usual airline logo and markings, the newly acquired C919 proudly sported “World’s First C919” in Chinese and English near its door. To mark the historic occasion, it made a short flight which lasted about 15 minutes from Pudong airport to Hongqiao airport, both in Shanghai.

Delivery followed certification by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in September 2022. Mass production is due to start shortly afterwards. Commercial service is expected to kick off in 2023 with a maiden domestic flight most likely between Shanghai and Beijing. As part of the first batch, China Eastern Airlines has placed an order for five C919 over the next two years.

The COMAC C919 plays in the same category as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 series. It has a capacity of 164 seats arranged around a single aisle. Narrowbody jets makes up nearly 60% of the passenger aviation market. The three plane makers are sometimes referred to as the ABC (Airbus, Boeing and COMAC) ‘trifecta of the aircraft industry.’

COMAC C919 Dependency on Foreign Components

To tap into the huge Chinese market, both Airbus and Boeing have set up assembly plants in China in Tianjin and Zhoushan respectively. Analysts forecast that China will need nearly 8,000 new passenger planes over the next twenty years. Prior to the US-China trade war, Boeing’s sales in China accounted for almost one quarter of its total global sales.

The catalogue price of the C919 is believed to be just shy of USD 100 million apiece. At the recent Zhuhai Air Show, COMAC divulged that it has received orders for 300 C919, but almost all of them are from Chinese airlines.

Critics were quick to point out that some major critical components still need to be imported such as the engine and avionics. However, China is working hard to develop its own indigenous engine and systems, as well as the supply chain capable to deliver on the multitude of components that go into such a complex product.