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

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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).

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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.

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  • 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.

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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.

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Jethro

at the moment C919 can fly and 737 max can not

High Mile Club

In China? Yes. Outside of it, hardly; in part because western airlines likely won’t take it for political reasons.

Student

COMAC relies on CFNM engines for their C919 prototypes. They have reverse-engineered a knock-off (WS20 high bypass turbofan), still in design and testing, but there’s no saying how they’ll work and if they’ll last.

China can fly C919s throughout China. Until they get FAA and European certification to sell overseas they’ll have a much smaller third-world customer base.

Doz

No. Even with the MAX grounded.

Doz

The A320 is the worlds best selling commercial jet airliner.

Paul Proctor

Articles like these all assume the Chinese jets will be perfect ‘out of the box,’ and thus a competitive threat. They won’t be. Airbus and Boeing have decades of jetliner design, manufacturing and engineering experience, and have learned many hard lessons. Also, remember the Chinese have to effectively and efficiently support these aircraft, which requires a vast, costly network honed by years of experience. If the Russians, who have decades more experience building commercial jetliners than the Chinese, can’t do it, how do you expect the Chinese to? A low price tag means nothing if the aircraft have a low dispatch rate and/or high turn back rate.

Alan Chadwick

Even the Wright’s brothers plane would be a threat to the MAX, it’s finished

Petr Liška

How can you allow to write such non-sense as: “The 737 MAX is the superior aircraft.” (under the photo. above..).
B737-100 and -200 were superior models in the late sixties, i.e. 50 years ago.
Starting with B737-300, it became obsolete (the only pax jet type with engine intake not circular /to keep engine-ground clearance/). A proof of obsolete design is present situation, when MAXes are grounded worldwide…what part of pax will never board any MAX ?!?

Why you compare dinosaur 737 only to Chinese panda C919 ?!
I thing, that much better than C919 is Russian made Irkut MC-21, with wide use of composites etc…
It has fuselage width 4,06 m compared to 3,95 m of A320 and compared to obsolete B737 (for 3+3 seating) at 3,76 m.
It means 30 cms more width than B737 and 11cms more than A320series.
This solution admits pax to cross with food/refreshment trolley (en route to/from toilet etc.).
MC-21 cabin width admits to pass through the corridor, when another passenger is trying to put his heavy “hand” luggage into overhead bin. This will shorten embarking and disembarking of pax, thus cutting turn-around times. Aircraft make money, when flying…not when on the ground…
…For short to medium routes, Irkut MC-21 is PERFECT SOLUTION.
Much more comfortable for pax, with shorter turn-around times than obsolete B737.
Petr Liška-Fox

Megastopheles

Airbus and Boeing both would be unwise to ignore rising competition from any corner. Especially not one with the backing of a nation-state.

Athula Dissanayake

What are engines n avionics

Chris Parker

The Chinese play a very long game unlike Western companies looking for a quick return. On the face of it Boeing does not have much to worry about. Dig deeper and it should be very very worried as this is the Company which will push Boeing into 3rd place in the aircraft market.

Boeing has said China is it’s biggest market, it also now has a dangerous competitor
China is buying Boeing aircraft partly to offset the trade deficit with the US
China can order it’s airlines to buy Chinese
China has massive influence in Africa and Asia which it can leverage to sell aircraft.

Bye bye Boeing, not just yet.

Bryan Stromberg

What is the price point? How is the reliability of the C919?

Farid Shaikh

737 Max