The long awaited moment came today, COMAC got its new C919 in the air.  Here is a video with a feed from the aircraft of that event.  The weather conditions were not great, but the event went ahead and mission accomplished.

The news after this event is going to be a mix of some hubris from China (understandable)  and some negatives from others (unfortunate).   The bottom line is this – China has flown its first big jet aircraft.  This is a proud moment fro China and COMAC, especially.   To be clear – this is a breakthrough for China.  Even if the event has been long awaited (the project was conceived in 2008).  The C919 is very competitive with the current generation A320 and 737NG.  How it compares with the A320neo and MAX8 is less certain at this stage.

The C919 program has 566 commitments from 8 airlines, including the Chinese majors,  Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, and Hainan.  It also has orders from 14 leasing companies and banks ready to financially support the aircraft.

The previous Chinese commercial aircraft, the ARJ21, also took a long time to get flying.  Its performance is probably not competitive, but it served a purpose as a great learning exercise.  We do not expect to see the C919 take anywhere near as long to be delivered to its first customers.  Naysayers are waiting to see COMAC stumble on industrialization.  Supply chains are already stretched by Airbus and Boeing.  The aerospace supply chain has consolidated and could easily provide the C919 with hurdles.  Chinese aerospace firms are not able to supply the key parts of the aircraft yet, so COMAC is going to depend on many the same firms that Airbus and Boeing do.  There is no question that the two western OEMs will always get higher priority.   COMAC will probably see some supply-chain stumbles – but fewer and smaller than seen with the ARJ21.

The aviation world already is paying attention.  Bloomberg reports IAG’s Willy Walsh saying positive things about the C919.   True he spoke of the C919 in “long term” – what is the long term for an airline? Probably between five and ten years.   We have seen the arrival of the C Series act as a disruption, and that program is tiny compared to what Airbus and Boeing are involved with.  The big duopoly balance is set at a very fine level.  It is easily disturbed.  If Bombardier has already acted as a disruption, COMAC, when it gets a full head of steam, is going to be very disruptive indeed.

The C919’s designer is quoted as saying: “With the rapid development of China’s economy, there is demand for at least 2,000 of the aircraft.”  If the C919 achieves EIS by 2020, it will be way behind the neo and MAX in deliveries.   But that may not be too much of a problem because Chinese airlines will buy the C919 – whether by fiat or not.  If Airbus and Boeing lose 2,000 orders to the C919, one can only imagine the impact.  The 2,000 number may be optimistic.  If 360 C Series orders have ruffled feathers, then things are going to get a lot worse for Airbus and Boeing.  The C919 is almost certain to outsell the C Series.

Congratulations to COMAC on a significant milestone that will forever change the industry as we welcome China as a player in commercial aviation.

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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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