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The Unstoppable Chinese Want to Dominate the Skies With Their C919 Passenger Plane

The economic boom of the Asian giant started at the end of the 70s and has not stopped growing. For a long time now, its GDP has been higher than that of the European Community. And not satisfied with that, now the unstoppable Chinese want to dominate the skies with their C919 airliner. Let’s see what this is all about.

The first fruit of COMAC

By the end of 2022, COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd) delivered the first C919 aircraft. This company, founded in 2008, has capital from the central government and the city of Shanghai, where it is located, as well as the contribution of AVIC (Aviation Industry Corporation of China). 

It was created precisely to generate a local response in terms of air transport, and reduce dependence on large manufacturers, such as Boeing and Airbus, until now the largest suppliers of Chinese commercial aviation. 

It is appropriate to note that the development of the program of this aircraft began in 2008; the prototype dates from 2011 and the first test flight from mid-2017. However, the planned schedule was not fully met. 

The christening of the C919 was, as mentioned, at the end of 2022, when the aircraft involved made its first official flight over a short distance (about 50 kilometers), from Pudong International Airport, where the delivery took place, to Hongqiao Airport, both in Shanghai.

This first unit, as well as the following, will be operated by the state China Eastern Airlines, starting next spring. It is expected that four more will be delivered to the aforementioned airline within two years. 

It can be said, then, that this is the first step of a long road, at the end of which it is thought that COMAC will not only compete but replace Western manufacturers of commercial aircraft. 

What’s so special about the C919?

But what are these COMAC C919 aircraft with which the Chinese want to dominate the skies, at least for commercial flights within their country, in the first instance? Let’s look at its characteristics.

The COMAC C919 is described as a narrow-body aircraft (this is the name given to those that are about four meters in diameter), with a single aisle and with capacity for 164 passengers in two cabins: one business class and one economy class. Is much less than an Airbus, which can carry up to 194 people. 

It is structurally constructed of aluminum. The engines are of Chinese technology turbofan, although there are various components manufactured by European companies. It is estimated to have a service life of 30 years or 90,000 flight hours.​ 

As for the autonomy, the COMAC C919 reaches between 4,075 and 5,555 km. With this, it is also below the Boeing 737 Max, whose range is up to 7,130 kilometers.

Then, what makes it special? Simply the cost. At first, it was thought that its manufacture would be around 70 million USD, although, in the end, it ended up costing 99 million. This, however, is less than the 111 million of the Airbus A320 and the 122 million of the Boeing 737 Max.

A commitment to the local market

Although the Chinese manufacturer announces that it has managed to capture a large number of orders (more than 1000 C919 aircraft), they are limited to domestic operators: apart from the aforementioned China Eastern Airlines, there are also Air China, Hainan Airlines, China Southern Airlines, among others.

Until the moment, COMAC has not had much success trying to persuade international customers to buy their aircraft, despite the price. This may be because, as mentioned, they repeatedly failed to comply with the planned take-off schedule, which may generate some suspicion.

Therefore, the C919 appears to be destined for domestic flights, within the same country. But you should not think that this is a small market; on the contrary. Let’s remember that we are talking about the most populous nation in the world (for now) and the third in surface area.

According to site statistics, there are about 22.35 million Chinese travelers who moved by plane within their own country, in just one month (August 2021); although this is a low figure, since before the COVID-19 pandemic an average of 50 million was estimated monthly.

So, if the international market resists, it would still be a profit only the fact that COMAC can replace with its C919 a part of Airbus and Boeing, which add up to 2,200 devices among the main airlines of the Asian giant. 

The skies will also be Chinese

But, this will still take a while, even to conquer their market in terms of airspace: COMAC expects to be producing about 25 C919s a year by 2030; a pretty slow pace, if you think about everything it needs to replace.

However, it is still a breakthrough, if you think about the long term. In fact, there are few countries that can say that they are in a project of this magnitude, to consolidate their national aeronautical industry.

And let’s remember that, on the other hand, China is seeking to achieve technological independence concerning chip manufacturing, where they also hope to compete with Westerners. So, they are working on several fronts to depend less and less on the West.For the time being, the Asians make their bet and they start their race to dominate the airspace on a firm footing, with the C919 passenger plane, applying their version of the Monroe Doctrine: the skies of China, for China.

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