China Is Hoping To Begin Deliveries Of Its First Mainline Airliner Soon. Here's How The Jet Compares To Its Boeing And Airbus Competition.

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Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Shi Yuge/VCG via Getty Images
  • China hopes to begin delivery of its first-ever home-built mainline airliner, the Comac C919, this year.
  • The planemaker’s jet does not stack up to Boeing and Airbus’ competing narrowbodies, analysts say.
  • The C919 falls short of the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo in terms of range, capacity, and technology.

Two years later, in May 2017, the C919 took its maiden flight over Shanghai.

First Comac C919 test flight.

Comac C919 test flight.
Reuters

Source: Simple Flying

While the company hoped the twin jet would enter the market before 2020, regulatory, technological, and supply issues turtled the process.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Getty Images/Stringer

Source: Aerotime Hub, Reuters

Specifically, Comac was impacted by restrictions imposed by the Trump Administration in 2020 that blackballed shipments of things like fight controls and jet engines.

CFM LEAP engines.

CFM LEAP engines.
PIERRE VERDY/AFP via Getty Images

Source: Nikkei Asia

According to a report by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a think tank based in Washington, DC, about 60% of the C919 parts are supplied by American companies.

Cockpit mockup of the C919.

Cockpit mockup of the C919.
Reuters

Source: Nikkei Asia

As a result, Comac was forced to rely on special licenses from entities like General Electric and Honeywell to get the parts it needed for the C919 jet.

Honeywell headquarters.

Honeywell headquarters.
DAVID BREWSTER/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Source: Nikkei Asia

In addition to supply challenges, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the country’s aviation regulator, has not yet certified the jet to fly.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Reuters

Source: Nikkei Asia

CAAC spokesperson Yang Zhenmei told Reuters that the plane has only completed 34 out of the required 276 test flights needed for certification, as of December 2021.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Source: Reuters

Nevertheless, the agency says the C919’s approval is an important focus for 2022. According to Zhenmei, the agency has imposed strict airworthiness standards for the plane, including over 40,000 days of manpower to review everything.

Production of the C919.

Production of the C919.
Reuters

Source: Global Times

Despite the setbacks, Comac is hoping its first delivery will happen in 2022.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Reuters

Source: Reuters

Once the C919 hits the market, it will compete with the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers — Boeing and Airbus.

Boeing 737 MAX

Boeing 737 MAX
BlueBarronPhoto/Shutterstock

Source: CNET

“The political ambition from the top leaders is that China has its own aircraft because, in their mind, great nations have their own airliners,” he continued.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Shi Yuge/VCG via Getty Images

Source: CNET

Boeing’s 737 variants and Airbus’ A320 family have ruled the narrowbody market for decades, so it will be a tough road ahead for the Chinese planemaker, regardless of whether the jet ever operates outside the country.

Boeing and Airbus.

Boeing and Airbus.
Boeing/Airbus

One of the biggest challenges Comac will face is overcoming Boeing’s influence in China, especially since the 737 MAX was recently cleared to fly in the country again after two fatal crashes grounded the plane in 2019.

Ethiopian Airlines' 737 MAX crashed in 2019.

Ethiopian Airlines’ 737 MAX crashed in 2019.
Skycolors/Shutterstock

Source: Reuters

Boeing stocks skyrocketed after the decision, strengthening the planemaker’s position in the Asian nation. The move will allow more than 100 MAX planes to be delivered to Chinese carriers.

China Southern Boeing 737 MAX 8.

China Southern Boeing 737 MAX 8.
aapsky/Shutterstock

Source: VOA News

Meanwhile, Airbus has a strong presence in China as well, delivering 142 planes to Chinese companies in 2021, 130 of which were single-aisle aircraft.

Chinese carrier Spring Airlines operates the A320.

Chinese carrier Spring Airlines operates the A320.
Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

Source: China Daily

Overall, about 2,100 Airbus aircraft and over 330 Airbus helicopters were operating in China as of the end of last year, according to data from the planemaker.

Airbus Helicopters plant in Spain.

Airbus Helicopters plant in Spain.
Hans Geel/Shutterstock

Source: China Daily

To further strengthen ties between the manufacturers and China, both Boeing and Airbus have also established aircraft assembly facilities in the nation.

Flair Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8

A Flair Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8.
Philippe Godin / Shutterstock.com

Source: CNET

Boeing has a 737 completion and delivery center in Zhoushan, which is a joint plant between Comac and the planemaker.

Site of the first Boeing 737 MAX delivery from its completion center in China.

Site of the first Boeing 737 MAX delivery from its completion center in China.
Comac

Source: Boeing

Meanwhile, Airbus has an A320 final assembly line in Tianjin, China.

A320 assembly in Tianjin.

A320 assembly in Tianjin.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/GettyImages

Source: Airbus

In addition to the burden of competing against powerful household names, the C919 will also have to prove itself in terms of efficiency and performance.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Reuters

Unfortunately for Comac, the plane falls short of the 737 MAX and A320neo, according to Richard Aboulafia of AeroDynamic Advisory, a US-based consulting company.

Production of the C919.

Production of the C919.
Reuters

“There’s no technological selling point for this jet,” he told CNET and also explained to Insider.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Shukor Yusof of Endau Analytics, a Malaysia-based advisory and research company, echoed Aboulafia, saying China lags behind the US and Europe in terms of technology.

JetBlue A320 aircraft.

JetBlue A320 aircraft.
Marcus Mainka/Shutterstock

Source: CNET

This is a problem for Comac because its own engineers are not as experienced in plane-making.

Production of the C919.

Production of the C919.
Reuters

Source: CNET

As a result, the C919 is not technologically advanced or more fuel-efficient compared to Airbus and Boeing’s products, which is a priority for safety and cost-sensitive airlines.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 EcoDemonstrator

An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 EcoDemonstrator.
Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: CNET

“I would describe [the C919] like a Nokia phone competing against Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S,” Yosuf told CNET. “It’s just not “cool.”

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Reuters

Source: CNET

According to the plane’s specifications, its size and wingspan are similar to the 737 MAX and the A320neo, but its frame is closer to Airbus’ narrowbody. However, its range is shorter than both rivals.

C919 cockpit on display in 2017.

C919 cockpit on display in 2017.
Associated Press

Source: Insider

Specifically, the jet has a max range of 5,555 kilometers (3,452 miles), which is less than its competing narrowbodies.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Reuters

Source: Comac

As far as passenger capacity, the C919 falls short once again, offering a maximum of 168 seats.

C919 cabin interior display.

C919 cabin interior display.
Reuters

Source: Comac

Meanwhile, the A320neo can hold between 150 and 180 people in two cabins, and up to 194 in a high-density configuration…

Frontier Airlines Airbus A320neo cabin

The cabin of a Frontier Airlines Airbus A320neo.
Thomas Pallini/Insider

Source: Airbus

…while the MAX 8 can carry up to 178 seats in a two-class configuration. The maximum number of seats the plane can carry is 210.

Singapore Airlines 737 MAX business class cabin

Singapore Airlines 737 MAX business class cabin
Singapore Airlines

Source: Boeing

As far as engines, the C919 uses Leap engines produced by CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and French aerospace company Safran. Both the 737 MAX and A320neo also use the company’s engine.

LEAP-1A engine, developed by CFM

REMY GABALDA/AFP via Getty Images

Source: CNET, Boeing, Airbus

However, China hopes to eventually use its own homegrown engines to lessen its reliance on foreign technology. So, the country is developing the AECC CJ-1000A, a turbofan jet engine that it hopes will be complete by 2025.

China-made CJ1000 engine.

China-made CJ1000 engine.
Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Source: Reuters

While the C919 is lagging behind its competitors in almost every facet of its design, there is one thing that could make it competitive in the market — its price.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Source: StatistaSimple Flying, CNET

Although the exact price tag has not been made public by Comac, analysts estimate a single plane would cost buyers about $50 million.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
ALY SONG/AFP via Getty Images

That is about 60% less than Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 and 55% less than Airbus’ A320neo, which are $121.6 million and $110.6 million, respectively, as of 2021.

VivaAerobus Airbus A320neo

A VivaAerobus Airbus A320neo.
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Source: StatistaSimple Flying

Overall, the C919 falls behind its competitors, but the jet is still a viable option for domestic flying in China or other neighboring countries says Yusof, despite its lacking cabin size and range.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Shi Yuge/VCG via Getty Images

Source: CNET

“There’s a desire to offer an Asian-made aircraft to Third World countries at lower prices compared to those marketed by Boeing and Airbus,” he said.

Employees working on the C919.

Employees working on the C919.
HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

Source: CNET

“We believe that the C919 will bring new competition to the market and the Chinese market is big enough to have more than two manufacturers, Airbus told CNET. “Airbus was born in competition and thrived in competition.”

Airbus A320.

Airbus A320.
Airbus

Source: CNET

The success of Comac is still uncertain, but the company’s only other commercial jet, the ARJ21, has provided the planemaker with some optimism.

China Southern ARJ21.

China Southern ARJ21.
Mario Hagen/Shutterstock

Source: Aviation International News

The 90-seater “advanced regional jet”, which analysts say is similar to the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 plane, first entered commercial service in 2016 with Chengdu Airlines. Since then, the company has delivered 66 units, according to Ascend by Cirium data.

Chengdu Airlines AJR21.

Chengdu Airlines AJR21.
REUTERS/Aly Song

Source: Aviation International News

Whether or not the C919 ever gains popularity comparable to its American and European rivals, it is still a symbol of China’s push for technological and manufacturing advancements in the world’s $200 billion aviation industry.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
ALY SONG/AFP via Getty Images

Source: CNET

The country hopes the new airliner will make it less reliant on foreign-made technology, which is part of the nation’s “Made in China 2025” plan.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Reuters

Source: The People’s Republic of China

First coined in 2015, “Made in China 2025” is the country’s goal to be self-sufficient in several industries, like transportation, phones, cars, and medical products.

Workers at the assembly line of Chinese automobile manufacturer Leapmotor in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province of China.

Workers at the assembly line of Chinese automobile manufacturer Leapmotor in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province of China.
Li Jianlin/VCG via Getty Images

Source: The People’s Republic of China, CNET

The C919 tackles the transportation sector, and China hopes the plane will generate billions of dollars at home without the burden of tariffs.

Production of the C919.

Production of the C919.
Reuters

Source: Insider

However, Aboulafia noted to Insider that the plane is not really a Chinese jet. “It’s put together in China, but the technologies and systems are from the West,” he explained.

Comac C919.

Comac C919.
Reuters

Source: Insider

Get the latest Boeing stock price here.

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