COMAC Rolls Out C919 Into Competitive Market

By Ray Jaworowski, Senior Aerospace Analyst, Forecast International.

Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC) rolled out the first C919 narrowbody airliner on Monday, November 2, at its facility in Shanghai.  The twin-engine, 168-seat C919 represents the initial Chinese challenge to the Airbus/Boeing duopoly in the large commercial airliner market.  The new aircraft has a range of 5,555 kilometers (2,999 nm).

First flight of the C919 is currently scheduled for 2016, a postponement from the original target of 2015.  China Daily has reported that this flight could be pushed back even further, to 2017.

At least initially, the C919 is to be powered by the CFM International LEAP-1C engine.  Eventually, the aircraft may be marketed with a choice of engines.  The Chinese firm AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine Company Ltd is developing an indigenous engine, called the CJ-1000A, that may serve as a powerplant option for the C919.

Other Western companies that are supplying systems for the C919 include Eaton, Honeywell, Moog, Parker, Rockwell Collins, and UTC Aerospace Systems.

COMAC has received commitments for 517 C919s, the majority from customers in China.  In 2014, the company indicated that the C919 would enter service in 2018, but the firm has not subsequently confirmed or updated that timetable.  Recent press reports have quoted unidentified sources as indicating that 2019 or even 2020 may now be more likely.

The C919 is entering a portion of the market that is almost completely dominated by Airbus and Boeing with their respective A320 and 737 families.  And, competition within the segment has intensified due to the launch of the re-engined, fuel-efficient A320neo and 737 MAX variants.  The A320neo is scheduled to enter service by the end of 2015, and the 737 MAX is slated to follow in 2017.

The main market for the C919 will be China and perhaps other countries in Asia.  Penetrating the large and lucrative markets in the West will be a more difficult task for the C919 or, indeed, any airliner from a new market entrant.  The main obstacles for the C919 in achieving significant sales in the West will be market perception, the achievement of Western (FAA/EASA) certification, and establishment of a global product support network.

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