The big news from China today is that the COMAC C919 has been certified for service. It has been a long time coming and follows the deliberate process we saw with the ARJ21. Except the period was slightly shorter as COMAC learned from developing the ARJ.  Launched in 2011, the program has acquired 169 firm orders and over 300 options. The first flight was planned for 2014 but only occurred in 2017. The test flights were hard to track as COMAC moved the flight test program away from Shanghai where flight tracking services were less prevalent.

The following table lists comparative key metrics for the C919 compared to its principal competitors. The C919 is, broadly, of the same physical dimensions. Its seating may be a tad lower, but LOPA can change as we have seen for the two western models.

Other key metrics, like MTOW and payload, appear roughly competitive. The range seems low, and that number is likely to rise. We have seen improved ranges for the other LEAP-powered aircraft. But the range has to rise by 50% to match the competition and that may be tough. On the other hand, public C919 data are still estimates. Getting hard data on the C919 might take some time.

Chinese airlines are going to be “encouraged” to deploy the C919 as they are with the ARJ. Based on the estimates above, this may not be too much of a problem, unless the C919 requires a lot of support, which is quite possible being a new aircraft from a relatively inexperienced company. The A320 and 737 are well known and have superb product support. Since Airbus has a FAL in China, it should experience less of a market impact. The MAX, on the other hand, is now a political tool in the politics of trade between China and the US. 

Bank of America estimates the C919 could acquire up to one-third of China’s single-aisle market. Bank of America previously described the C919 as “lackluster”. Even so, since CAAC decides which airline gets which aircraft, the C919 will find customers. As we have seen with the ARJ, China will also use aircraft deals to help its foreign policy goals and influence.

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Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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