Reports on disagreements over subcontractors and terms for the transfer of technological know-how have periodically cast doubt on the progress of the joint Russia-China widebody CR929 project. However, it would seem that the most acute differences have been resolved and that construction will go ahead for a potential maiden flight in 2023.
Contracts to state-owned subsidiaries
As reported by the Asia Times, both China’s embassy in Moscow and CRAIC (China-Russia Commercial Aircraft International Corporation) have now confirmed that the project’s subcontractors have been shortlisted since March. Thus, everything seems on track for construction to commence before the end of the year. Mass production has been scheduled for 2026.
Most of the contracts have reportedly been awarded to subsidiaries of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). Meanwhile, Russian engineers will supply the blueprints for the aircraft’s components. As such, it does indeed seem to fulfill the premise of achieving together what two countries’ aviation industries could not do separately.
The joint CR929 program of COMAC (The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) and Russia’s UAC (United Aircraft Corporation) is meant to challenge Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
While both states have narrowbody jetliners in the works taking up the competition with the 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo in the COMAC C919 and the Irkut MC-21, the two decided to band together in order to make their mark on dual-aisle air travel.
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Predicted Chinese growth potential market
The joint partnership is aiming for a 10% share of the global widebody market, today entirely dominated by Airbus and Boeing. While it may seem like a far-reaching target, the Chinese air travel market is predicted to grow 5.5% annually over the next 20 years. This is significantly higher than the 3.8% global average.
When considering that in 2019, China’s airline industry transported 659,9 million passengers, the need for more aircraft over the next two decades should not come as a surprise. Thus far, COMAC has reported receiving over 1,060 orders for its C919 aircraft, the vast majority from Chinese carriers. Meanwhile, the manufacturer’s ARJ21 regional jet has received over 610 orders from 23 customers, also mostly in China.
China’s big three airlines, Air China, China Southern Airlines, and China Eastern Airlines, are all state-owned. As such, it is not hard to imagine that if a Chinese-made widebody is available when new orders are made for dual-aisle aircraft, there will be some homegrown loyalty for Boeing and Airbus to contend with.
As China’s domestic market is big enough to be conducive to widebody traffic, with China Southern having operated A380s between Beijing and Guangzhou, orders may not even need to wait until global aviation shows stronger signs of recovery.
Three versions planned
COMAC plans to offer the aircraft in three different versions; the standard CR929-600 with a capacity for 280 passengers and a range of 12,000 km (6,480 NM), a shorter fuselage CR929-500 with 250 passengers but a range of 14,000 km (7,560 NM), and a stretched CR929-700, which will be able to carry 320 passengers but only travel 10,000 km (5,400 NM).