- Photo: Jon Ostrower

A model of the Comac C919- Photo: Jon Ostrower

It’s no secret that China is one of the world’s largest consumers of narrow-body aircraft. It is also no secret that China wants to be seen as capable of developing its own commercial airline industry. The Comac C919 is the answer to their problem. Unlike the ARJ-21, this aircraft is a much more ambitious affair.

Though still mostly constructed from aluminum, the aircraft features composite materials — at least in the wingbox. The Comac C919 has garnered 450 orders prior to the first airframe being completed, with the first flight expected towards the end of the fourth quarter this year. It looks, to the untrained eye, as if this program is off to a promising start.

Unpack the 450 orders, however, and the picture starts to look a little different.

Cabin mockup of the 919 - Photo: Jakub Gorski | aeroblog.pl

Cabin mock-up of the C919 – Photo: Jakub Gorski | aeroblog.pl

Other than the twenty orders placed by GECAS, all the orders are entirely of the domestic variety. This leads to the question of whether or not this project has international credibility; it is a valid question.

There are plenty of international partners. Rockwell Collins is providing various avionics, the engines will be of the CFM LEAP variety and, most important of all, there’s the nondescript Bombardier cooperation (the last, which seems to change based on the day of the week). There are no current details, of late, for all of us on the outside who know that the C919 will no longer share a common flight deck with Bombardier’s CSeries.

Flight deck mock-up of the Comac 919 - - Photo: Jakub Gorski | aeroblog.pl

Flight deck mock-up of the Comac 919 – Photo: Jakub Gorski | aeroblog.pl

Again, at face value, Comac’s goal of breaking the Boeing/Airbus narrowbody duopoly is a noble, if not extremely challenging, task. The problem arises as to whether that is actually the case. With China’s strange crypto-capitalist economy, the central government loves to use American or European aircraft orders as a means of correcting a trade-deficit. While they would still be importing the avionics and engines from around the world, the overall value of those components pale in comparison to the whole. Perhaps, then, the goal of constructing the C919 is one of national interest. Nothing wrong with that at all; China is the fourth-largest country by land area, has an expanding middle class, and is the second-mostpopulous country.

China’s air travel market is white-hot and they need planes – now. But wait, you say, why is there an Airbus factory in Tianjin if China is making its own A320-sized aircraft? While the Tianjin facility assists in meeting the near-term air travel demand, COMAC is realistic; new aircraft take a while to ramp up. One type, let alone two types, could never satisfy all of China’s narrow-body demand. It gets even more complex. There’s a strategic element in play. Not only does China want to be taken seriously as an economy, they want to be taken seriously as an innovator technological powerhouse. To get there, your nation needs to prove that it can produce state-of-the-art anything, especially aircraft. The C919, in a broad-strokes way, is a matter of national pride.

- Photo: Jon Ostrower

A model of the C919’s frame – Photo: Jon Ostrower

But are airlines and lessors only ordering it because they have to? That’s the mystery, isn’t it? No one can tell you anything about what this aircraft will actually perform like from not only an aerodynamic perspective, but in-service projections are also missing.

With a mixed (12J/144Y) capacity of 156 and the exact same cargo hold dimensions as an A320, we can say that it should perform, in some ways, like an A320. After all, it features one of the engines that has been offered for the A320NEO.  However, I have learned to never take any proximal statements at face value. Will numbers change with in service data? Unlikely.

Mock up of the first class cabin onboard the C919 - Photo: Jakub Gorski | aeroblog.pl

Mock-up of the first class cabin onboard the C919 – Photo: Jakub Gorski | aeroblog.pl

While the Sukhoi Superjet is not just garnering international orders, it is netting follow-ons and option conversions. There is still a huge stigma regarding Russian planes being unsafe or somehow inferior to manufacturers from other platforms. Chinese airliners, while less numerous throughout the globe, suffer even lower in international esteem.

Previous Chinese endeavors such as the Xian MA60 have been decried in the Western press as dangerous; a fate also not escaping those who operate the Harbin Y-12. Some even go so far as to call them “deathtraps”.  The sad question is, will Western consumers want to fly on a Chinese plane even if it is constructed to the five-years-ago standards of the West? There’s an argument to be made of whether anyone will care if the price is right, but if something terrible were to happen to one of these planes carrying Americans – it would be game over.

- Photo: Jon Ostrower

Close up of the Comac C919 – Photo: Jon Ostrower

It gets worse; on top of the cultural issues of exporting a Chinese airliner, it becomes a money game. If, and this is again an entire unknown, the C919 is cheaper than a 737MAX or A320NEO, will the cost average out in terms of lifetime fuel-burn and maintenance?

Even then, how is this aircraft being financed? We know that China loves to offer discounts to the developing world. How does their export financing work? I am not asking questions for the sake of fear mongering, it is just that this aircraft program exists in shades of grey.

It’s always a great thing to see a new entrant into the market, but this one feels like it is designed not to fill the global niche of mid-size, narrow-body aircraft. Instead, it seems to be designed to fill the need of urgent lift for the Chinese market. But, I feel that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The first C919 is slated to fly at the end of this year, with entry into service not yet disclosed. I look forward to flying on it one day — I would have no hesitation.

CONTRIBUTOR - SEATTLE, WA. Bernie has traveled around the world to learn about, experience, and photograph different types of planes. He will go anywhere to fly on anything. He spent four years in Australia learning about how to run an airline, while putting his learning into practice by mileage running around the world. You can usually find Bernie in his natural habitat: an airport. Email: [email protected].

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34 Comments

If you want to learn how to build your own long range bomber to secure the First island chain, this will be good leaning experience for the engineers.

Darn good article, Bernie. Thanks!
Why (or how?) does the C919 exist? IMO it is as mostly international posturing and the lovely Asian tradition of Saving Face. At least so far it appears that very little of the C919 is original, Chinese technology. Vital components are bought in foreign markets, the structural technology is largely stolen, prior generation stuff from the Amerikas and Europe (but still STOLEN), and cobbled together by engineering committees who learned about half what was taught in the Western schools that they attended. To extend your absolutely valid questions a bit…

Will it really Fly? Yes.
Will it fly safely? Probably yes, but we’ll just have to wait…
Will it fly efficiently? No and no chance in hell. Genuine efficiency is an original design concept in which the productive total is far greater than the sum of the parts, or in the case of airplane weight, far less. From what little the West can see, the C919 is an amalgamation of bought and stolen parts, likely assembled by resentful and angry slaves and very likely to exceed it’s paper weight by several tons.
The C919 may well get some use in China’s domestic fleet, but the real operating numbers will be buried such that the rest of the world will never know. I Hope it is reasonably safe., It may work reasonably well in China’s domestic fleet, but elsewhere??? I have to wonder. Why GECAS ordered a few is beyond my understanding, unless they intend to lease them back to the Chinese domestic market at a profit. Let’s also remember that before export sales are possible, the C919 must be examined, thoroughly tested and certificated by North American and European regulators. That will not happen anytime soon, if ever. If anything, the C919 is an example of the Soviet/Russian industrial model of four decades ago. Sure, the cranked out some sturdy, functional airplanes. Most were built as noted above, using a cobble of stolen, bought and ‘duct tape’ engineering, to produce obese airplanes with zero market beyond the Soviet’s economic Pressure Zone. (even in the 21st century, where does Eastern Europe by its airplanes? With darn few exceptions, they do not come from Russia!!) It may be fun to fly an antique Russian airplane, but to do so, one usually has to visit North Korea. Heck, even the Ruskies don’t fly those monsters any longer. Perhaps the hard way, even Aeroflot (at one time the armpit of international aviation?) knows better; when they need new airplanes, they make their deals in Blagnac, FR., or Chicago, USA.
So… Will the C919 Fly? Yes
Will Europe and North America ever see it? No. (N.F.L.)
Even if it is a ‘reasonably’ good airplane, Europe and the U.S. do far better, a less real cost than these folks can possibly deliver. Need more proof? Consider their existing fleets. The international fleet is entirely foreign, largely Boeing with some AB presence. The Chinese domestic fleet still retails a few Soviet aircraft, but the majority is again Boeing and those silly folks in France. Boeing and Airbus own the single-isle market, world-wide and no Chinese upstart is going to change that for at least 50 years. China simply does not have the requisite ‘Institutional Memory,’ to build a competitive airplane, stolen technology or otherwise. I’m so confident in those facts that I will bet my usual nickle. -C.

Why China want to build its own plane? WHY NOT? any country with capability, resources, and plan to better itself will pursue this project. It is certainly a long and arduous journey, but if China never try it, then it will be forever buying its plane from foreigners. Since China’s need for planes are limitless, why not try to build it?

In spite of technological advances, the safety concerns are always at hand. Most of the times, profit will “override” passengers’ safety. Is Comac C919 such a case? Maybe…

Jetranger

everything else China makes falls apart, or is tainted somehow, I dohn’t think I’d be very interested in riding in their little Jet !

“everything else China makes falls apart”

Really! Does your iPhone falls apart? Or does the pants you wear is falling apart? And neither the case for those hundreds of bullet train running at any moment in China that many other country could only envy for.

Scott, I cannot tell you why I know this, but suffice to say, the C919 has already fallen apart once. (Tail fell off) ..just saying….

Top secret clearance

Apple I-phone,Dell Computer,Hewitt Packer Printer,Sony TV,Cuisinart small appliances Kenmore large appliances,American Standard Plumbing Fixtures,Black and Decker Tools are made in China.Most of the items sold at Macy s,Sears,JC Penny,Targrt,Walwart,Home Depot are made in China.Thanks to the rich who shipped your jobs overseas,China has learned to build high value items like High speed rails,Dams,Bridges Tunnels,Deidu Satellites,High Voltage Transmission Lines,4th Generation Nuclear Reactors that is sold world wide.The City of Chicago brought one billion dollars of commuter trains from China.The City of Boston brought 500 million dollars of commuter trains from China.Donald Trump brought high grade steel for his hotel from China.Every port in the US brought high speed computerized cranes at 27 million dollars each to unload containerized cargo.Panama recently build a new 6 billion dollars canal with locks and new railroad with Chinese help. The C919 is a learning curve how to build airplanes .AECC with a annual budget of 20 billion dollars and 100 thousand employees will manufacture Wang Zhengou turbo-scram jet engines and new alloy (Ti 458Ni) engine which is 50% better than GEnx engines that powers Boeing 787.

The following top rated products are made in China:-

1) Range of Iphone mobile
2) Mac laptops
3) HP laptops
4) Air-conditioning compressors to run all the branded air-con
5) Airbus assembly plant in Tianjin

a) Does your Iphone the best phone compared to nokia or other European made brands ?
b) Does Airbus fall from the sky frequently.?
c) Does your MAC or HP lap top fails frequently ?

hearsay. No documented proof ??

If China is the second most populous country in the world, who would be number one?

India is number two, I guess that’s a typo.

Brad Gilson

The other problem, if the airplane has an accident, we will never know about it. Just like the devastation in Tibet right now, they will ensure that nobody knows. But, with cheap, cheap labor and stolen technology, they might make something that gets our attention, from a $ perspective. No high priced labor strikes like 747-8 and A380.

Go Go CHINA!!

Guys, whatever you think, pls face the fact of China change, and developments regardless the right or wrong way, but the result of change and development is the key, Comac will success finally, we know a long way need to go, but she will be there…

Tony Setiabudhi

Hoping that this AIRCRAFT will contribute a positive IMPACT for the next generation of EASTERN COUNTRIES !
Like INDONESIA – we have BJ Habibie who develop our first National Flag on Aircraft – CHINA will do the GREAT-LEAP for us !
CONGRATULATIONS !

CHRIS, I hope you can be respectful of other country if you want to be viewed as an educated and intelligent human been. Use personal income as indicator, vast part of China is like typical developing country. Toilet facilities would up to the standard of those western country. There are many interesting things to learn and explore when visiting another country than focus on toilet.

Any Chinese airliner better have cleaner toilets than I’ve seen anywhere in their filthy country.

The toilets will be cleaner, but will be the squatty potty trench type. Oh, and much like the modern check baggage fee, the toilet paper will cost extra.

Guys, wake up! This is the 21st century, not the beginning of the 20th century when China had nothing to boast but the longest wall and the biggest population in the world. Now, China has the biggest foreign reserves, longest network of bullet trains on earth and the list goes on. In other words, China has overtaken many countries in areas where it was backwards 15 to 20 years ago. I admit the general state of public toilets may still need catching up but given there are more important priorities in the economy, the emphasis on jet engines and aircrafts may address one of the most important weaknesses in the economy.The speed of catching up with the west could be much faster from here as China has built itself a very strong industrial (including high tech infrastructure) base with strong financial resources in the last 30 years. Which country in the world can challenge this?

Now, China has the biggest foreign reserves ***rapidly shrinking foreign reserves*** , longest network of bullet trains on earth***supported by cut rate concrete*** “Over the Shinkansen’s 50-plus year history, carrying over 10 billion passengers, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions”

Bernie:

AWST reported in April of 2013 that COMAC had abandoned the composite wing box and selected a traditional aluminum structure. So the reporting in this article (almost 2 years later) is incorrect on that point.

As a Chinese graduate student in the United States, it is very disappointed to see some of the above comments. “Stolen technology” is one of the common word that only referring to China. The information and technology are the properties of the whole human beings. It does not belong to any specific country. People from different country learn from each other. Thousand years ago people learned from China. Now, we are learning from others, humbly. The word “stolen ” should not be used.

Hao, really? are you that naive that you think China does not take what it wants regardless of who actually owns it and the patients and right to it? Maybe you should do a little more subjective unbiased research on your country before you chime in. Research the aircraft sitting in the center of the campus of Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Company. It looks strangely like the Boeing 707 that was sold to the Chinese in 1972. Because they “stole” the technology by trying to reverse engineer the Boeing plane, the three that they managed to build never flew because they were too heavy. Looking at the C919, it looks strangely similar to a cross between an Airbus A320 and a Boeing 787.

whitieboi

It has a cockpit, jetengines, wings and a tailfin, best proof of the fact the dirty chinese stole this from us Superior westerners!

Superior westerners……wow…. let me tell you something Mr. superior westerner. Gunpowder was introduced around 142 AD in China, compass was appeared around 206 BC in China, paper making can be traced back to 105 CE in China, and printing was introduced in between 206 BC and 220 CE once again in China. I can go on and on and on if you want me to….. Anyways, my point is that the ideas of weaponry, navigation, means to preserve information and etc were all introduced by China. Obviously these inventions are still being widely used nowadays by people around the world including you Mr. superior westerner. So…….. is it safe to say you stole it ?

The Shanghai Y-10 actually flew a couple of times. But clearly it was never going to be commercially viable.

I am Chinese, I saw so many groundless guess and some arrogance in the comments, but I never feel regretful, as this is part of so called “civil” human. how much do you really know about China? how many times and how many places have you been in China? I guess most of you learn China from CNN,NCN, NNC… I don’t want to brag for my country, also my country is far from ready to be bragged for, so we are working hard…
about 100 years ago, my ancesters living in Qing Dynasty of China also behaved like some of you: never believe there are any more advanced culture outside their “central kingdom”, never believe there is change ongoing in the outside world and their dynasty will last forever, they believe “central kingdom” is superior than these barbarians , they even don’t want to have a equal discussion with them…
you know the result, it was very sad, we got the lesson!

All the above news agencies are owned by american jews including the American aircraft industry. The problem is because they own the companies, they make the money, they hire non white immigrants, have diversity training, etc.
Therefore hurting the white race and taking money from american white. That’s why boeing opened the factory in china and caused white america so unemployment. Because jews just want a profit

Reading the piece on C919’s maiden flight date , it’s a fair discussion, much more objective than many sour comments followed. Three data points: 1. a hard number, China’s manufacturing economy today is nearly as large as, hold still …, US/Japan/German, COMBINED! 2. High speed rail as a prior, China wants to upscale its value chain. When it does, it cuts competitor’s price in China by double percentage points if not by half. And in many cases, it eats its competitor’s cake. China market is littered with dead bodies, 90’s Japanese TV makers, gone. Samsung phone, disappearing, iPhone, out of top 5, top leading home appliances sales by dollar numbers – Haier/Midea/Cree, even cars, BYD makes many many more E-cars than Tesla and PROFITABLE! 2. Nothing wrong with trying. MSFT is a great company now, anyone remembers Window 1 and 2? A tip: never buy MSFT product for its first two iterations, wait for the 3rd charm. From that angel, C919’s first iteration does not look bad at all.

Lamar Pinkerton

Be afraid, be very afraid. The Chinese are not known for their high standards of Aviation safety. In fact you take your life into your hands boarding a Chinese registered airliner. Right alongside the risk with Indonesia and their appaling Aviation standards. Now the Chinese are trying to challenge the established manufacturers by launching the Comac C919.
Made from aluminium.
And surprise, surprise, Ryanair has ordered them. Like I said, be afraid, be very afraid.

Its funny some false flag from third world country bashing china. Some buthurt from 3rd world country commented as westerner

Like all products made in china, airbus and boeing should be given big sticker “made in china” in body plane LOL!

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