When Will COMAC Start To Deliver The C919?

According to Aviation Week, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) has decided to push back the project completion date of their flagship C919 aircraft by another three years.

The COMAC C919 in flight in 2017. Photo: Weimeng via Wikimedia

What is the COMAC C919?

The COMAC is more than just a new narrowbody aircraft; it is the realization of a dream for the Chinese aviation industry. China is attempting to jumpstart their own manufacturing capacity to compete with the likes of Airbus or Boeing, and the C919 is one of several airplanes they want to bring to the market.

Specifically, the C919 is a twin-engine narrowbody aircraft that can carry 158 passengers in two classes, to a range of 4,075 km / 2,200 nm. There is an extended range variant on the drawing board that would push the range up to 3,000 nm. The C919 is the natural equivalent to the ‘best-selling’ Boeing 737 series.

You can read a comparison article here where we face off the C919 vs the 737 here.

This aircraft is also important for China’s growth. With 200 airports to be built in the next 15 years, China sees an opportunity to develop their own technology (and stop being reliant on Boeing and Airbus) to fill an important market niche.

According to an ATW Online article published back in 2017 when the aircraft flew its first test flights, “COMAC aims to take a fifth of the global narrowbody market and a third of the Chinese market by 2035.”

The second prototype takes flight. Photo: Ken Chen via Wikimedia

But actually bringing this aircraft to market has proven to be a bit more challenging than COMAC initially predicted.

What are the details on the delay?

Originally, the COMAC C919 was expected to be completed in eight years from 2008 and in-service by 2016. However, since then COMAC has pushed back on the project completion several times, extending the total development cycle to 14 years.

Currently, only four prototype C919 aircraft have been built, with the fourth taking its first flight in July. Typically, the first four to six aircraft built by an aerospace firm are company prototypes and not actually released to the market. In fact, the first two Boeing 777X aircraft didn’t even fly, but were just built to test manufacturing methods. Thus it might be some time before we see a production run model of the C919.

“The first three prototypes will test its performance and dynamic or power systems including the turbofans. The fourth prototype will test the mission systems, like the avionics, and the electrical system. The fifth and sixth prototypes test passenger service, including the cabin and information system”CGTN.com

The first prototype during ground testing in Shanghai. Photo: Shimin Gu via Wikimedia

Additionally, COMAC needs to rack up a certain number of flight hours before they can apply for international certification (such as with the FAA). As reported by Aviation Week in November 2018, the C919 had only flown around 150 hours out of the 2,000 or so required.

Thus, COMAC is faced with a ticking clock situation that they simply don’t have enough time to complete all the tests to reach their own deadline. China Eastern, who was expected to take ownership of their first C919 in 2020 now faces waiting far longer than they anticipated when they ordered the type back in 2010.

What do you think of this delay? Let us know in the comments.