As the COMAC C919 nears its final certification in 2021, it might be interesting to see what we can expect from this aircraft. The C919 features CFM LEAP-1C engines and can seat up to 168 passengers. The narrowbody jet is targeted at ending the duopoly of Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, which overwhelmingly lead the market.
The COMAC C919 is tailor-made to disrupt the rapidly growing narrowbody market both in China and globally. The aircraft has a range of 2,200 nautical miles, enough for most domestic Chinese and regional routes. The C919 can seat 158 to 168 passengers depending on the cabin layout, an important factor for high-demand routes.
Comparing this to the 737 MAX and A320neo, we see some similarities and differences. The former has a range of 3,550nm and the latter 3,400nm, both being far ahead of the 2,200nm offered by the C919. However, all three planes offer a seating capacity of roughly 160 in a two-class layout, making it a competitive option.
The C919 can offer up to 190 seats in a dense cabin configuration, the A320neo offers 194, and the 737 MAX pushes that to over 200 seats. The seating and range likely mean the COMAC jet is destined for more domestic and regional routes. However, the upcoming extended-range version could bring the plane on par with its rivals.
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The COMAC C919 hopes to incorporate new technologies to ensure it is as reliable and safe as its counterparts. Indeed, the C919 features the CFM LEAP-1C engines, versions of which are also found on the competing A320neo and 737 MAX. The design is also reminiscent of recent modern jetliners (notice the windshield too). While this does not rule out all safety concerns, it may allay fears over engine issues.
In a statement to CNN, the Director of Zaha Hadid Architects Cristiano Ceccato said,
“The COMAC C919 is designed to be an ‘international airliner with Chinese characteristics’…This means an ability to match the quality and safety established by Boeing and Airbus, but also by incorporating the specific needs of the Chinese market: High-density, high-frequency missions with fast turnaround times from airfields with broadly varying levels of development.”
While the C919 may have Chinese characteristics, it raises the question of the plane’s success in the global market. Currently, the aircraft reportedly garnered 815 orders from 28 airlines and lessors. This includes airlines like the big three (China Eastern, China Southern, and Air China), Hainan Airlines, Joy Air, and more. GECAS is the only foreign lessor that has placed an order, buying 10 planes with options for 10 more.
The C919 could be certified in 2021 and come into service with launch customer OTT Airlines soon after. However, this date should be taken with a pinch of salt as the program has faced many delays along the way. Assuming all does go well and the C919 enters commercial service, we could see a major shift in the Chinese market.
What do you think about the C919? Could it truly break up the dominance of Airbus and Boeing? Let us know in the comments below!