The COMAC C939: The 400 Seat Boeing 777X Competitor Under Study

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Chinese aircraft manufacturer COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) has big plans for the coming years. It is planning to make headway into the industry, challenging the Airbus-Boeing duopoly in several areas. The largest of its proposed aircraft with which it will look to do so is its ‘C939.’ Let’s take a look at this concept.

CRAIC CR929
COMAC is already developing the CR929, a 290-seat widebody, in conjunction with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). The C939 would potentially be a larger version of this. Photo: Getty Images

Existing COMAC aircraft

COMAC’s first commercial jetliner was the rear-engined ARJ21 regional jet. This first flew in November 2008, and it entered commercial service with Chengdu Airlines in June 2016. The type made its maiden international flight with the same carrier in October 2019. It has enjoyed reasonable commercial success recently, with 2020 marking a record year for its deliveries.

COMAC is also currently developing the C919. It hopes that this aircraft will penetrate the short to medium-haul narrowbody market currently dominated by the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families. This competition is being taken seriously by executives such as Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury. COMAC is closing in on the C919’s first deliveries, which it hopes will take place this year.

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comac-arj21-2020-deliveries-getty
Thus far, the ARJ21 is COMAC’s only airliner to have entered commercial service. Photo: Getty Images

What is the C939?

The C939 is a proposed COMAC twin-engine widebody aircraft that would seat 390-400 passengers. This was one of the preliminary designs that the company considered when conceptualizing its upcoming CR929 (more on that later), although it ultimately opted for a smaller variant.

AeroTime Hub predicts that, if launched, the C939 would compete with aircraft such as the Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 777X series. Its proposed capacity certainly puts it in this ballpark, although it would be an impressive feat to match the range and efficiency of these aircraft. Allegedly, COMAC is even considering a further-stretched C949 aircraft. Extrapolating the capacities of the CR929 and C939 suggests that this would have a capacity of 490 passengers.

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If built, the C939 will look to challenge, but face strong competition from, the Boeing 777X and Airbus A350. Photo: Airbus / Boeing / Simple Flying

According to Global Security, China’s airline market is set to triple (in terms of aircraft numbers) in the next 20 years. This perhaps explains why COMAC appears to be proposing an aircraft for every capacity. However, it must be careful not to put too much on its plate.

Maintaining COMAC’s existing focus

For now, it would perhaps be unwise for COMAC to dive straight into the development of a large, widebody aircraft, given that it technically already has one on the cards. In conjunction with UAC, it is developing the 290-seat CRAIC (China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation) CR929.

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COMAC, C919, Airbus Competition
The C919 is currently considered COMAC’s most serious competitor in relation to the Airbus-Boeing duopoly. Photo: Getty Images

The manufacturers hope that this aircraft will challenge similar Airbus and Boeing models. Its aim is to take 10% of the widebody market away from this powerful duopoly. However, with the first flight and deliveries not expected until the 2025-2028 window, the CR929 remains an unproven commodity.

As such, it would seem most sensible for COMAC to first focus on making this aircraft a success over the coming decade. If this proves to be the case, it would then be in a position to evaluate the demand for a larger C939 version. With that in mind, this 400-seat Chinese jetliner is probably a concept for the longer-term future.

What do you make of China’s proposed forays into the widebody long-haul market? Will the C939 be a success, or is COMAC better off sticking to its existing CR929 project first? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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