Reports (here and here) indicate that COMAC and UAC have signed documents to formally register a joint venture to develop a widebody jet.  The concept was first mulled in 2014.  That announcement included an image of what the aircraft might look like.  That image looked like a mixture of an A330 and 787.  The image below looks different from the first image. The latest version has wings that look similar to those on the C919.

Now we have a few more details.  The idea is to win 10% of the market in the segment where the A330 and 787 compete.  The C929, as it will be known, is aimed at 280 seats and a range of 7,500 miles.  The goal is to offer an aircraft with 10-15% lower costs the Airbus or Boeing.

Both UAC and COMAC are deep into development projects now on separate single-aisle aircraft.  These projects will be bringing their own development teams up to speed for the next project.  There will be a great deal of IP developed by the two firms which can be used for the C929.  UAC has a deeper experience pool based on its longer history from its aerospace subsidiaries. This is likely why the C929 R&D will be based in Russia while assembly will be in China.

Interestingly, neither UAC or COMAC has an appropriate engine for an aircraft this size.  Which may be why an engine “tender” is going to be published.  The engines on the A330neo and 787 are state of the art.  It is unlikely that Rolls-Royce and GE would share that level of IP.  They might supply an engine, but not components.  Russia has good engine IP, but not of the thrust class on the 787 or A330neo.  Besides, Rolls-Royce is moving to its new generation of engines.  GE will be well into the GE9x improvements by 2025.

This means that the C929 may struggle to operate at 10-15% lower costs than the competing aircraft from Airbus and Boeing.  For example, the C919 may be a fine aircraft.  But it is unlikely to be as efficient as the A320neo or 737 MAX.  Whatever gap exists between the C919 and its competitors will probably narrow by the time the C929 emerges though.  We do expect any gap between the MC-21 and competing Airbus and Boeing aircraft to be narrower than may exist for the C919.

This project looks very interesting on many levels.  Both partners have a tough job ahead of them, as the competition is well aware of the potential threat and will ensure they keep their own R&D teams funded and busy.  Airbus and Boeing will ensure they keep a wide gap as possible between the C929 and their own products.

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