A script that may soon become commonplace, the delivery of the first series production Chinese jetliner C919 from the state-owned planemaker COMAC is close to happening.
According to the Chinese news agency CCA, the first aircraft of China Eastern Airlines carried out a check flight on Sunday before being officially sent to the launch customer.
It was the first time that the C919 registration B-001J emerged with China Eastern’s livery after being repainted weeks ago.
Chinese media also reported that the aircraft will be registered with the brand name B-919A in place of the provisional COMAC registration.
The first serial C919 was used in the final stage of certification for commercial flights of the aircraft, which was confirmed by China’s aviation regulatory agency in September. The approval campaign, which started in 2017, also included six Chinese jet test aircraft.
Announced in 2008, the C919 is a narrow-body commercial jet proposed to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, which are currently the best-selling airliners in the world.
According to COMAC, the plane can be configured with 168 seats and has a flight range of 4,075 km – COMAC is also working on the development of the C919ER, with an extended range of 5,555 km.
Despite being assembled in China, the C919 still relies on many components imported from the West, such as engines and avionics systems, which are supplied by companies such as General Electric, Safran and Honeywell International.
In the medium and long term, it is expected that these items will be replaced by Chinese-made similar ones.
Launch customer of the new aircraft, China Eastern Airlines, has a firm order for five units of the C919 and an option to purchase an additional 15 units. The aircraft has also been ordered by at least 30 other Chinese airlines and institutions. According to the manufacturer’s website, the C919 has more than 800 orders.
C919 still cannot be exported
The new COMAC plane will for the time being be restricted to the air travel market in China and in countries with close ties with Beijing.
Exports, especially to operators in the West, depend on certification from international aeronautical bodies, such as the FAA, from the United States, and EASA, from Europe, which has been working on validating the Chinese jet since 2017.
COMAC is also awaiting the C919 production certificate, which is required to start mass production of the aircraft. While it does not obtain approval from the CAAC, the manufacturer is still unable to impact the global commercial aircraft market, as Airbus and Boeing have the capacity to produce and deliver dozens of aircraft per month.
However, despite its slow development, the C919 comes to market with a highly competitive price. The aircraft is valued at around $50 million, well below the list values of the most recent versions of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.
The C919 is the second product launched by COMAC. The first commercial aircraft from the state-owned manufacturer was the ARJ21-700 regional jet, an aircraft based on the old McDonnell Douglas DC-9.
The Chinese company, in partnership with the Russian group UAC, is also working on the development of the CR929 widebody model, which should reach the market by the end of this decade.