Is China’s COMAC C919 Serious Competition For The 737 MAX?

In previous articles, we have argued that the COMAC range of aircraft poses future competition to the duopoly of Airbus and Boeing. But could the under-development COMAC C919 topple one of the world’s best selling commercial aircraft, the Boeing 737?

Ryanair, COMAC, C919, Michael O'Leary
The COMAC C919. Photo: Getty Images

What is the COMAC C919?

Before we can compare the two aircraft, it would be best to discuss how and why China is building its own version of the Boeing 737/Airbus A320. China is poised to become the world’s largest aviation market and is single-handedly the cause of the world’s pilot shortage.

Both Airbus and Boeing sell heavily to the country and China can’t seem to buy enough aircraft for its multiple state airlines (China has the most government-owned airlines in the world).

However, if there is one thing China doesn’t want to be, it is reliant on is western imports of high-technology products like aircraft. With the commercial aviation industry worth around $2.7 trillion dollars (in better times than now) it would be madness for China not to want a slice of the pie.

Not only does China want to secure its domestic aviation market, but it wants to expand rapidly into developing regions like Africa (in which it can offer its aircraft much cheaper than Boeing or Airbus).

Thus we can summarise that China looked at both Airbus and Boeing and decided to produce four different aircraft models to beat the competition.

  • ARJ21 – Airbus A220 and Embraer E-Jet competitor.
  • C919 – Boeing 737 and A320 competitor.
  • C929 – Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 competitor.
  • C939 – Airbus A350 and Boeing 777 competitor.

But is the C919 competitor any good when compared to the brand new Boeing 737 MAX that Boeing offers today?

Comac C919 OTT Airlines
The C919 is soon entering full production. Photo: Getty

The Boeing 737 MAX vs the COMAC C919

In basic terms, the two aircraft can be compared like this:

  • The Boeing 737 MAX series can transport up to around 173-200 passengers to a maximum range of 3,850 nautical miles (7,130 km)
  • The COMAC C919 series can transport up to 168 passengers to a range of 3,000 nautical miles (5,555 km). This is an expensive ‘extended-range’ version, with most produced having a smaller range.

The COMAC C919 lacks many other features such as bigger cabins and better pressurization that the 737 MAX has, but it is perfect for China’s domestic use as a shuttle aircraft.

You can check out a full VS analysis of the two aircraft here. And how it compares to the Airbus A320 here.

Boeing 737 MAX
The 737 MAX is the superior aircraft. Photo: Getty

Is the C919 really competition for the Boeing 737 MAX?

On one hand, Boeing has all the aces up its sleeve. Because of somewhat frosty relations between China and the United States, many of the technology innovations that make Boeing aircraft so fantastic have been kept hidden away from competitors.

Looking at the statistics, you can see that the Boeing 737 MAX is leagues ahead of the COMAC C919 and an airline would have no doubt on which aircraft is better.

However, and this is big, however, this year has been fraught for the Boeing 737 MAX model, and the fact that Boeing has been unable to deliver orders to clients has made their eyes wander over towards other suppliers… namely COMAC.

Boeing would be wise not to ignore what COMAC is up to. At one point they laughed at the idea of European plane makers coming together to form Airbus and likely, they don’t want to repeat the same mistake. The C919 might not beat the 737 MAX in this generation, but COMAC will give Boeing a run for its money in years to come.

What do you think? Which aircraft is better? Let us know in the comments.