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February 27, 2024
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A South China Morning Post report describes COMAC’s growing ambitions.  The key language is: “…promote the certification of its domestically built narrowbody passenger jet in Europe this year.”

There is no doubt that COMAC wants to grow its market share outside China. Within the Chinese market, COMAC has won a lot of orders.  But these are likely “home turf” orders encouraged by the state.

China’s need for aircraft capacity is obvious. Our domestic air traffic model below lists China as Tier 1.  Chinese domestic demand is there.  The backlogs at Airbus and Boeing make this the perfect moment for COMAC to step up.  Global demand for fuel-efficient airliners is seemingly inelastic.

China’s domestic traffic is growing, and India is flourishing as an aviation market. Here’s a data point for context. Of the ~350 million US population in 2023, there were 855.2m airline passengers.  The mind boggles at the potential of two nations, with over a billion people each, reaching the US in air travel consumption levels.

The problem for China and COMAC is the production rate.  Not only have the two Chinese aircraft programs run very late, but production rates are, frankly, anemic.  COMAC recently delivered its fourth C919. The program dates from 2008 – four deliveries from a program that is nearly 20 years old is not a strong signal.

Getting the EU to certify the C919 is probably useful from an optical point of view – it looks good for the C919.  This should allow the aircraft to fly in the US due to reciprocity.

But who will order and operate it?  If a Western airline placed an order today, when could they expect a delivery?

While the global market could use more state-of-the-art single-aisle aircraft, COMAC currently can’t deliver. China’s airlines will keep turning to the duopoly for aircraft because COMAC can’t deliver fast enough to threaten Airbus and Boeing.

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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.

1 thought on “COMAC’s C919 ambitions

  1. Even if they were to get their act together, a lot would depend on how fast CFM and other western manufacturers bwould churn out powerplants and other parts to support whatever rate Comac chooses for its ramp up.

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