COMAC, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, have touted their new C919 aircraft as the perfect match against the world-famous and very popular Boeing 737. But how does it actually compare on paper and will airlines be swayed by the Far East variant?
How will we compare the two aircraft?
Naturally, this comparison needs to have a few caveats before we can really dive in.
For one, there are multiple versions of the Boeing 737, and only one ‘real’ version of the C919, although there are extended-range variants on paper. So, in the spirit of fairness, we will match the C919 vs Boeing 737-800. This is based on the passenger capacity of 160 passengers and the fact that the 737-800 has been the most popular 737 model so far.
COMAC C919 vs Boeing 737
Here is how they line up:
|Passengers||168 (1-class) / 158 (2-class)||160 (1-class) 184 (Max)|
|Length||38.9 m / 127.6 ft||39,50 m / 129 ft 7 in|
|Wingspan||35.8 m / 117.5 ft||34,32 (35,79) m / 112 ft 7 in (117 ft 5 in)|
|Height||11.95 m / 39.2 ft||12,57 m / 41 ft 3 in|
|Empty weight||42,100 kg / 92,815 lb||41.413 kg / 91.300 lbs|
|Range||4,075 km / 2,200 nm –|
ER: 5,555 km / 3,000 nm
|2,935 nmi (5,436 km)|
A little bit of a surprise was the fact that the C919 was designed to carry more passengers in a default all-economy configuration that the Boeing 737-800. It is not clear why they want that extra row (or two), but for some airlines that little bit of a difference might make the C919 more attractive.
We do know with the latest version of the 737 MAX 8, there is a 200 seater variant under construction for Ryanair. Whether or not the C919 will follow suit remains to be seen.
This is where the wheels start to fall off for the C919. If these reported range numbers are accurate, the C919 has a significantly shorter range than the Boeing 737 and might be a total deal-breaker for airlines considering the aircraft. Even an extended range version of the aircraft can’t match the default 737-800.
This problem seems to be caused the smaller fuel tanks on board the C919, and not from lack of power.
“The C919 has a relatively small maximum fuel capacity of 16,160 L (4,269 US gallons) when compared to both the A320 and 737-800, whose figures stand at 24,210 L (6,400 US gallons) and 26,020 L (6,975 US gallons), respectively, leading to an inferior range of 2,200 nm for the standard variant and 3,000 nm for the extended range variant, both of which are short of the A320’s range of 3,300 nm.” – Aspire Aviation.
That being said, perhaps in the long development cycle of the aircraft, COMAC has managed to increase the fuel capacity and thus the range of the aircraft.
Will airlines choose the C919 over the Boeing 737?
To answer this question, it’s best to split airlines into two groups. The first, Chinese Airlines, are fully behind the C919 and have already placed 295 orders and over 700 options for the aircraft. Whilst we could chalk this up to patriotism for their own aircraft, it is more likely that the Chinese government ‘encouraged’ the orders (all Chinese airlines are actually partially owned and funded by the government, so it’s more likely that the orders are gifted aircraft).
On the other hand, only one western firm (not an airline) has ordered the aircraft. GE Capital Aviation Services, the firm that is selling COMAC the engines for the C919, has ordered 10 aircraft and has 10 options. These aircraft are likely to be used as demonstrator models and allow GE to develop better engines for future versions of the aircraft.
But an article by Bloomberg has rightly pointed out that the current ‘troubles’ that Boeing is facing with their 737, and production delays with the alternative A320 series could open the flood gates for airlines to consider the C919. If the C919 gets the right approval and a Western or Middle Eastern airline interested, then we could see COMAC’s order book fill up.
What do you think? Which aircraft is better? Let us know in the comments.