The position of 3rd largest manufacturer of commercial aircraft in the world should be lost by Embraer within a few years. If the Chinese government’s plans succeed, state-owned COMAC will surpass the Brazilian planemaker in the number of planes produced annually.
Although it does not have the same experience and global presence as Embraer, COMAC has an unbeatable asset, the “preference” of dozens of Chinese companies, which will receive the ARJ21 and C919 jets, whether they like it or not.
The Communist Party of China has a clear ambition to be less dependent on Boeing and Airbus and create an indigenous line of commercial aircraft.
Although the task is not easy, since the country is still far from producing a widebody aircraft – there is the CR929 project with the Russians, but which is still in a preliminary phase – the COMAC aircraft duo will supply the segment between 90 and 170 seats, the most in demand in air travel.
But what guarantees that the Chinese manufacturer can surpass Embraer in annual production volume? The answer is the plan to build 150 C919s annually within five years.
Together with the ARJ21 regional jet, which already has two active assembly lines with a capacity of assembly 50 planes per year, COMAC will therefore be able to deliver 200 jets annually by 2028.
It is a far cry from Boeing and Airbus, but practically twice the best delivery times for Embraer commercial aircraft. In 2018, for example, the Brazilian company delivered 90 airliners, while last year it must have delivered around 54 jets, according to data collected by Air Data News.
In 2022, COMAC had about 33 aircraft delivered, 32 of which were ARJ21s and a C919, the first of the model, received by China Eastern Airlines.
According to Zhang Yujin, director general of COMAC, there are 1,200 orders for the C919, which has a passenger capacity similar to the Airbus A320neo and the Boeing 737 MAX 8.
Certainly, the work of the Chinese company will be much easier than that of Embraer, which needs to negotiate with each plane sold, often facing the strength of Airbus with the A220.
COMAC, in turn, does not need to convince any potential customer to take the ARJ21 and C919, as this is a political determination of China.
In the short term, Embraer seems to have little chance of expanding its sales by relying only on the larger capacity E190-E2 and E195-E2 models.
Hope resides in the E175-E2 model, with up to 90 seats, which had its development suspended for not adapting to the operational restrictions of regional airlines in the United States, its largest market.
It remains to be seen whether the two Chinese aircraft will fulfill their roles in terms of reliability, availability and performance. If they justified the high investment received, then perhaps the ARJ21 and C919 could show some ambition outside of China.