COMAC – the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China – is set to make its first commercial delivery of its C919 by the end of 2021, according to state media. This will make it the company’s second commercial aircraft brought to market after the ARJ21 regional jet. The C919 is designed to compete with the popular Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 Family of single-aisle planes.
The finish line is in sight
It’s been a long journey to get the C919 to market. The first C919 actually flew back in 2017, which was already three years later than originally planned. By mid-2018, COMAC began intensive flight testing, and by 2019, four working prototypes were in service.
Despite these setbacks, Bloomberg is reporting that COMAC will deliver its first C919 by the end of the year. The news first emerged in state media, citing a COMAC engineer.
However, the company and its second product have one more important step to overcome before the first delivery is made. While Simple Flying, as well as a number of other sources, reported in November 2020 that certification was near, we know that this step has yet to be completed.
In fact, just last week, the C919 completed its extreme low-temperature testing, undergoing rounds of experiments over 23 days at negative 35 degrees Celcius.
Following the path set by the ARJ21
The C919 follows the path set by COMAC’s first commercial aircraft project: The ARJ21. This “Advanced Regional Jet” entered service with Chengdu Airlines in 2016 – a shocking 10 years late, as the aircraft was intended to be ready for customers by 2006.
The ARJ21 is at least picking up a little bit of momentum, with COMAC delivering 24 of the aircraft to customers over the course of 2020. That brings the total number of ARJ21s delivered to 46.
The ARJ21 is China’s first short- to medium-range turbofan regional aircraft built to international aviation standards. Configured to fit 78 to 90 seats, this plane has a range of 2,225 to 3,700 kilometers. COMAC reports taking a total of 616 orders for the plane from 23 airline customers.
Will there be buyers?
COMAC has already accumulated an impressive number of orders, reporting that airlines and aircraft-leasing firms have placed orders for 1,065 C919s, with the vast majority of demand coming from Chinese carriers.
While the C919 is similarly sized to popular Airbus and Boeing products, the aircraft’s range and efficiency are lacking in comparison. However, this may not be the deciding factor for potential customers.
Aircraft price, as well as an earlier availability, may be key to the competition. With China’s economic influence in Africa and other parts of the world, there may also be some pressure on dependent countries to maintain good relations and buy Chinese.