China Displays Its C919 Outside The Country For The First Time

By Spyros Georgilidakis | February 18, 2024

COMAC hopes to sell the C919 airliner outside China, and is showcasing it in Singapore, the jet’s first display at an international airshow.

This year’s Singapore Air Show has opened its doors and is notable for the presence of some big names, and the absence of others. Boeing has not brought any airliners to the show. Not a good sign, but perhaps not surprising, given recent events.

Photo: N509FZ, CC BY-SA 4.0

COMAC (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China), on the other hand, brought its C919 at the event, for its first display outside China. As we have previously seen, the aircraft is the size of the A320 and a direct competitor of it – and the 737 MAX.

The C919 got its certification late in 2022. It took some time to enter service, however. Its launch operator, China Eastern, made lengthy test flights with the first jet, finally putting it in regular revenue service in May last year.

China Displays Its C919 Outside The Country For The First Time
Photo: N509FZ, CC BY-SA 4.0

Displaying, Selling, AND Certifying the C919 Outside of China

Last September, COMAC recorded the first sale of the C919 to a customer outside China. However, the airline, Brunei-based startup GallopAir, has Chinese investors. But to fly internationally, the C919 will also need certification from aviation authorities outside China.

Currently, only China’s CAAC has approved the aircraft for commercial service. But COMAC reportedly hopes to change this soon. The manufacturer aims to get certification validation for the C919 from EASA (European Aviation Safety Authority) later in 2024.

Photo: N509FZ, CC BY-SA 4.0

That will open the door for international deliveries. But before that, COMAC will need to ramp up production of the aircraft. Few would question China’s mass-production capabilities. But for now, at least, the C919’s supply chain overwhelmingly is NOT Chinese.

This has some obvious trade-related implications, as some observers outside China consider the C919 vulnerable to international sanctions. Plus, most of COMAC’s international suppliers are the same as those of Boeing and Airbus. Which means that they are suffering from the same supply problems and delays.

China Displays Its C919 Outside The Country For The First Time
The C919. Photo: COMAC, via Honeywell

Same Suppliers, Same Supply-Chain Headaches

Eventually, a version of the C919 will fly with a homegrown engine, which has already flown in testing. Previous estimates said the engine’s service entry could be in 2030, but it could happen earlier.

Photo: N509FZ, CC BY-SA 4.0

However, avionics, actuators, control systems, and most other key equipment for the C919 come from outside China. And if COMAC aims to sell a fully Chinese version to foreign customers, it will need to develop AND certify Chinese versions of all of these systems, too.

But all this is still in the future. For now, only four C919s are flying commercially. Still many see the aircraft as a credible long-term player that could break the Boeing/Airbus duopoly. In previous years, Russia’s Irkut MS-21 with its advanced avionics and composites seemed better placed to do that… but not since a couple of years ago.



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