China Express Purchases 100 Chinese COMAC Aircraft

China Express Airlines is set to purchase 100 new Chinese COMAC aircraft. The deal would see the regional airline take both the ARJ21 and C919, with deliveries starting later this year. The ARJ21 will likely be the first delivered.

COMAC, China Express Airlines, C919
COMAC has secured an order for 100 more aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

COMAC is slowly trying to position itself as a competitor to both Airbus and Boeing in the narrowbody market. Having started deliveries of the ARJ21, its smaller regional jet, the company is currently in the process of certifying its Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 rival, the C919. While orders for its aircraft are almost exclusively from Chinese airlines, Ryanair maintains an interest in the C919, having signed an MoU with COMAC in 2011.

A new order?

According to a  Stock Exchange listing seen by Simple Flying, COMAC is clocking an additional 100 orders for both its ARJ21 and C919 programs. The announcement was placed on the Chinese version of the Shenzhen stock exchange. The filing stipulates that the airline today signed an agreement with COMAC in Shanghai.

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According to the announcement, 100 ARJ21-700 and C919 aircraft will be delivered to the airline. Deliveries will start later this year. These will almost certainly be for the ARJ21, which is already in service, as opposed to the C919 that is still in the certification phase.

COMAC, China Express Airlines, C919
The ARJ21 is already in service within China. Photo: Getty Images

The agreement additionally states that both COMAC and the airline will co-operate on maintenance and employee training regarding the aircraft, in addition to engaging in overseas market development.

The ARJ21 vs. the C919

In the listing on the Shenzhen stock exchange, it is not made clear how the order will be split between the two aircraft types. But what is the difference between the two?

The ARJ21 is COMAC’s regional jet. This smaller aircraft first flew in November 2008, with Chengdu Airlines operating its inaugural passenger flight in June 2016. 90 passengers can be accommodated in the ARJ21-700 in a one-class configuration. The standard edition of the aircraft has a range of 1,200 nautical miles, while this stands at 2,000 nautical miles for the extended range version.

Meanwhile, the C919 is still in development. Having completed its first flight in May 2017, the company is currently eyeing an entry into service for the aircraft in 2021 or 2022. The larger C919 can carry up to 168 passengers in a one-class configuration. In a standard configuration, its range is 2,200 nautical miles. This rises to 3,000 nautical miles on the extended range version.

COMAC, C919, First Flight
The COMAC C919 program has faced repeated delays so far. Photo: Getty Images

Could COMAC be real competition for Airbus and Boeing?

It’s too early to say whether COMAC could act as real competition for both Airbus and Boeing. While the C919 has over 300 firm orders, these come almost exclusively from Chinese companies.

Given the Airbus Boeing dominance, it will likely take a significant western carrier to successfully implement the type before many would consider it. Thankfully, COMAC has already lined up this carrier, with Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary having previously placed a memorandum of understanding for the aircraft. While the MoU was placed in 2011, O’Leary told Simple Flying in March,

“We’re still committed to the COMAC program. All airlines and customers need to see the emergence of a third manufacturer to replace McDonnell Douglas and the Chinese would be a very welcome addition.”

What do you make of this latest COMAC order? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!