The COMAC C919 is China’s answer to the Airbus A320, but how does it compare to its European counterpart?
How will we be comparing the aircraft?
Just a few days ago COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) tested its sixth and final prototype C919. The aircraft flew for two hours around COMAC’s test center at Pudong Airport near Shanghai. This last prototype will be testing lightning, cabin layouts, engine noise, and passenger experiences. From here COMAC is all set to get the aircraft certified in 2021 and begin deliveries.
In a previous article, we compared the Boeing 737 to the COMAC C919, but you can’t talk about Boeing without mentioning its friendly competitor Airbus. If COMAC truly intends its C919 to outsell the Boeing 737, then it needs to outsell the A320 as well.
As there are two types of the A320 (depending on the engine option) I thought it would be interesting to see how the C919 compared to both.
COMAC C919 vs Airbus A320
|Passengers||168 (1-class) / 158 (2-class)||164 (1-class) / 150 (2-class)||195 (1-class) / 165 (2-class)|
|Length||38.9 m / 127.6 ft||37.57 m / 123 ft 3 in||37.57 m / 123 ft 3 in|
|Wingspan||35.8 m / 117.5 ft||35.8 m / 117 ft 5 in||35.80 m / 117 ft 5 in|
|Height||11.95 m / 39.2 ft||11.76 m / 38 ft 7 in||11.76 m / 38 ft 7 in|
|Weight||42,100 kg / 92,815 lb||42.6 t / 93,900 lb||44.3 t / 97,700 lb|
|Range||4,075 km / 2,200 nm||6,112 km / 3,300 nmi||6,500 km / 3,500 nmi|
COMAC has designed the C919 to seat a useful range of passengers for airlines, catering to the 158 to 168 capacity range. This places it above the original A320 but not as big as the A320neo which can comfortably seat 165 passengers in two classes (around the maximum of the C919).
Looking at the range of the two aircraft lines we can see that Airbus has a 1000 nautical miles advantage over the C919. The range of the Airbus aircraft series is so significantly more than the C919 that we can’t mark it down to better engines or sharklets (like the difference between the A320 and A320neo), but rather entire engineering choices.
Looking at the fuel capacity:
- C919 – 19,560 L
- A320 – 26,730 L
As we can see, Airbus also carries far more fuel than the C919. These design choices give airlines the confidence that their A320 fleet will be able to fly any route they choose.
However, I also do have to mention there are plans for an ‘extended range’ version of the C919 that can fly up to 2999 nautical miles. The range is still below the Airbus, but enough to be noted.
Normally we would compare the two types of aircraft by price. If one is significantly cheaper than another then it would make financial sense for some airlines to buy. However, I have been unable to find a list price for the C919 at this time and the aircraft is only on order from Chinese airlines (which in turn are owned by the government) making any figure dubious.
Aircraft specifications aside, there are also plenty of other issues that might make the C919 unpopular, such as training required, lack of maintenance or support outside of China, spare part availability and confidence in an unknown type & brand.
The bottom line is that the Airbus A320 series, both NEO and original, outcompete the C919. However, Airbus should not rest on its laurels, as COMAC is a hungry beast and could easily make up several of the advantages that Airbus holds dear. Likely COMAC will refine the C919 and improve its range, and with a possible stretch, easily push that capacity up to the A320neo.
What do you think? Which is best? Let us know in the comments!