Chinese May Benefit from Boeing’s Woes

16 Apr 2019

Chinese built COMAC C919 is making inroads into the narrow-body airline market, historically controlled by Boeing and Airbus. The state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, or COMAC, is building the C919, a narrow-body passenger plane with a capacity of about 170 that the company says has more than 800 orders worldwide. It will compete with the Boeing 737 Max 8 as well as the Airbus 320neo as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious gamble to build an aerospace industry from scratch and break Western companies’ grip on the skies.

China grounded the Max 8 within hours of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, leading a global wave of suspensions. Boeings woes have  provided an opportunity for COMAC to get their proverbial foot in the door, they are taking full advantage of the situation by courting all the airlines currently considering buying narrow-body aircraft.

Beijing’s aspirations extend beyond the C919. COMAC is working with Moscow-based United Aircraft Corp. to develop the widebody CR929 that could eventually fly long-haul routes such as Beijing to New York. State-owned enterprises are developing a complete range of aircraft, including widebodies, turboprops, business jets, helicopters, seaplanes, and even zeppelins. “Strategically speaking, aviation manufacturing is a national imperative,” says Yu Zhanfu, a partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in Beijing who focuses on aerospace and defence. “Once you have aviation manufacturing reaching economies of scale, it will lift the entire industrial chain.” COMAC said in November that China’s aviation market will take delivery of 9,000 planes, worth $1.3 trillion, over the next two decades. Two-thirds of those will be single-aisle planes like the Boeing 737 and the C919.


The first C919 test aircraft, powered by LEAP engines just like those on Boeing 737 Max and Airbus A320 Neo, flew its maiden flight last May. It flew a first intercity flight in November. A second test aircraft flew in China in December and made a two-hour flight from Shanghai Pudong International Airport. COMAC is also in the process of building a training centre for maintenance engineers, flight attendants, and other airline employees who will eventually operate on the C919 and CR929.

 Another COMAC aircraft, the ARJ21 regional jet, competes with aircraft made by Embraer, which is in a joint venture with Boeing. The buyers so far are smaller carriers, including Chengdu Airlines and Genghis Khan Airlines. “COMAC is a great competitor and we respect them a lot,” Boeing acknowledged in an email. “They are also a great collaborator.” China accounted for about 14 percent of Boeing’s revenue last year, proving that there is a market for their home grown product.

The biggest inhibiting factors at present is the lack of a reliable safety track record as their Western competitors do and at present no Chinese company has the capacity to design and produce engines for commercial jets. The C919’s makes use of the LEAP engine manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA.

Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to make his country an aerospace superpower. In the wake of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes the opportunity to do just that may have presented itself.




Seats                                                  168 (1-class) / 158 (2-class)

Length                                                 38.9 m / 127.6 ft

Wingspan                                           35.8 m / 117.5 ft

Height                                                11.95 m / 39.2 ft

MTOW                                               72,500 kg / 159,835 lb

Maximum payload                               20,400 kg / 45,000 lb

Maximum fuel                                     19,560 kg / 43,122 lb

Empty weight                                      42,100 kg / 92,815 lb

Engine (× 2)                                        CFM International LEAP-1C Turbofan

Thrust per engine                                 31,000 lbf (137.9 kN)

Cruise                                                Mach 0.785 (450 kn; 834 km/h)

Range                                                5,555 km / 3,000 nm

Take-off                                              2,000 m (6,600 ft) 

Landing                                             1,600 m (5,200 ft)


Boeing 737 MAX 8

Seating                                             200 ( 1 class) /178 ( 2 Class)        

Length                                              39.47 m /129 ft 6 in       

Wingspan                                        35.92 m / 117 ft 10 in

Height                                              40 ft 4 in / 12.3 m

MTOW                                            82,191 kg / 181,200 lb

Maximum Payload                             20,882 kg / 46,040 lb                    

Maximum fuel                                   25,816 L - 45,694 lb

Engine (× 2)                                     CFM International LEAP-1B Turbofan

Thrust per engine                              29,317 lbf (130 kN)         

Cruise                                              Mach 0.79 (453 kn; 839 km/h)

Range                                              6,570 km / 3,550 nm

Take-off                                            2,600 m (8,500 ft)           

Landing                                           1,700 m (5,500 ft)


Airbus A320neo             

2-class seats                                    165 (2 class)/ 195 (1 class)           

Length                                             37.57 m (123 ft 3 in)       

Wingspan                                       35.80 m (117 ft 5 in)

Height                                            11.76 m (38 ft 7 in)

Fuel capacity                                   32,940 l (8,700 USg)[c]

Engines (×2)                                    CFM International LEAP-1A 

Thrust                                             120.6 kN (27,120 lbf)     

Cruise                                            Mach 0.82 (473 kn; 876 km/h)

Range                                            6,500 km / 3,500 nm

Take-off                                           1,988 m (6,522 ft)


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