airliner designs

May 6, 2017

China’s ambitious COMAC c919 flies for first time in Shanghai

Don't underestimate the significance of the first flight of China's first home designed single aisle jet

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

A media pool photo of the c919 lifting off

The most immediately striking thing about the first flight of the COMAC c919 in China for Australians is this detailed report in the New York Times.

This is because the NYT is strongly upgrading its presence in this country, just as once great media empires like Fairfax implode toward a future where they just publish rubbish pushed at them from PR and government agencies.

It even looks like the major contest for a sustainable media model in this country might be between the Guardian Australia, and the New York Times. But that could be a premature obervation.

Back to the COMAC c919. There is clearly much more to China’s ambitions in civil aerospace than this knock off of an Airbus or Boeing single aisle design, as shown by this earlier post about a COMAC scaled model flight near Beijing last month.

The COMAC c919 doesn’t appear set to share the fate of the first French efforts to enter the mass single aisle market with the Caravelle, which had a good production run and a dreadful hull loss record, or the limited edition Dassault Mercure.

The Mercure was so optimised to head off the decision by the state rail organisation to build a TGV high speed train network that satirists in France said it was the only airliner that couldn’t leave the country from anywhere in its middle reaches. But it could do Paris Orly to Lyon in about half an hour, really flat out, at low altitude, compared to the new train, which took two hours two minutes between the central locations in each city at ground level with a teeth rattling vibration that was overcome in later versions.

As the NYT details, the c919 isn’t really much of a threat to Airbus or Boeing, and boosts the revenues of western engine and components makers along its way to entry into service.

It is however, the tangible start of a potential, indeed likely, new third force in airliner design and production.

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19 thoughts on “China’s ambitious COMAC c919 flies for first time in Shanghai

  1. Mark Skinner

    Many of the early production runs of various products from China were not much competition for their US or European competitors. The second or third iterations are what sent many of the US or European competitors bankrupt.

    If this follows the pattern, the comac will be produced in sufficient numbers for the local market, while building up expertise and production capacity…and a safety record. Then, with a big internal market behind them, sales to areas of market weakness of the big 2 will be targeted.

    Now, whether it will follow the usual pattern, I have no idea.

  2. Dan Dair

    Embaraer & Bombardier already have similar products to the C919.
    Airbus will probably not be deeply concerned, though Boeing might start to fret a little.?
    The thing is, there’s obviously a massive emerging market in China & the surrounding & associated nations. If the C919 is anything like any good, it will sell very well domestically & may well generate international sales in appropriate states & nations, if the price is right. (that’s the bit that Boeing might be fretting about)
    Potentially, the currently second-best small airliner could be ousted in a price-war by this Chinese offering.?
    As a nation, they have deep pockets & can afford to financially-support this product to ensure it creates it’s own market-share, whether by hook or by crook.???

    Why not buy the C919 if the price is right & the finished product meets the necessary Western standards.?
    It’s going to have the latest Western engines & it’s obviously going to have to pass Western type certification if the Chinese want to sell it to or use it in the West.?

    1. StickShaker

      I think anyone outside China looking at the C919 would have concerns about manufacturers support once the aircraft is in service. Boeing and Airbus have hard won reputations in this area.

      1. Dan Dair

        I don’t see why.?

        Comac had had loads of problems getting any airliner to the market, but because they’re government funded & it’s high on their agenda, Comac are still in business.
        At the point that they do get an FAA certificated airliner into production, I have no doubt they will have the infrastructure behind them to support these aircraft.?

        Whether Western airlines will buy them over the B737 or small Airbuses is a different matter, but I’ve no doubt that many of the airlines who’ve ordered, but still not received their ARJ21’s would be genuinely interested in taking delivery of an (or more.?) actual C919, if it was the right sort of size for their market needs.?

        1. ghostwhowalksnz

          The US’s FAA and China’s equivalent CAAC were working together sometime back on the ARJ21, but that has broken off, and they havent been working together on the C919. Not realy any chance in the near future of it getting certified to FAA standards. They could work with EASA, the european agency but they arent likely to be any less fussy the FAA.
          In my eyes its just a copy of the A320 ( just as the ARJ21 was derived from the DC-9/MD90 type they were building under license)
          Once its confirmed certain key parameters match that of the A320 – like wing sweep and structure, fuselage diameter, undercarriage retraction etc, then it will be obvious to everyone.
          Just as a detailed look at some of their new very futuristic fighters are more based on existing Russian designs with ‘chinese characteristics’ . Cockpit and nose contours, jet inlets etc are very easy to change. Even the west does such changes itself now and then. China its allways

          1. Dan Dair

            “In my eyes its just a copy of the A320 ( just as the ARJ21 was derived from the DC-9/MD90 type they were building under license)”

            I think that you & anyone else who holds-on to that particular idea will have a rude awakening at some future point.
            The format of narrow-body, single-aisle, twin-jets, could be said to derive from the B737. (although that’s not the earliest passenger aircraft to use that configuration)
            So everything with that format is a B737-copy.?
            That didn’t stop Airbus becoming the best-selling aircraft in that market-sector.
            Are the Embareaer & Bombardier offerings “just a copy of the A320” (or A319), because they again are the same format.?

            In order to sell this aircraft around the world, or at very least sell it into markets where it will fly into ‘Western’ airports, the Chinese will need FAA or EASA type-certification.
            But additionally, to avoid huge lawsuits which may result in the legal-grounding of such aircraft by Western nations, the Chinese will need to ensure that their aircraft is not a copy, or wherever it is a copy, that copy is properly licensed from whomever it has been copied from.!

            Comet has independently echoed my comment that the Chinese government strongly wants a civil-aviation industry.
            They are putting in a lot of money & they are expecting to get results, no matter how long it takes.?

            I believe that the C919 is going to be the duopoly-breaker, but equally (as you know) I have my own reservations about just how stable & strong Boeing actually is.?
            I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that by 2025, Airbus & Comac are the two big-names in aviation & that Bombardier, Embarear & Mitsubishi are the second-tier manufacturers, battling for the crumbs at the edge of the table.

  3. Jacob HSR

    Fairfax has a Domain section (for selling houses) which probably makes them a lot of money. So Fairfax keeps cheering on the real estate ponzi and calls anyone that wants AUS to have the same immigration rate as Canada a “racist”.

    So yeah, Fairfax sounds like nonsense because it is.

    1. comet

      What do you think stopped Eddie Obeid fulfilling his ambition to become premier of NSW?

  4. Jacob HSR

    The Antonov An-124 flew in 1982. Shows how advanced the Soviet Union was compared to China today – at least in spacecraft and aircraft.

    The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 could carry a lot of passengers – over 200?

    But then Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas on 1 Aug 1997. Thus leaving us with the Airbus/Boeing duopoly.

    So now it is time for Bombardier to produce CS100 and CS300 aircraft with 133 seats and 160 seats respectively.

    I love how they have a mock up aircraft for people to see:

    http : // www . bbc . com/news/world-asia-china-39814146

    Given that HMAS Otway is in Holbrook, NSW for everyone to see and touch, why not have a decommissioned cabin of an aircraft in AUS? Or a decommissioned train carriage in a shopping mall?

    1. Dan Dair

      ‘But then Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas’…..
      Which is another way of saying; McDD realised that they didn’t have the wherewithall to stay in the airliner business.?

      Boeing themselves, might be in a similar situation now.?
      They’ve had some serious money-issues with the B787 & are also losing market-share to the A320 series. If Embarear, Bombardier & possibly Comac can actually get reliable aircraft into service which can rival the performance & capacity of the B737, Boeings cash-cow & therefor it’s cash-flow, could take a big hit.

      We’ve not yet seen the B777 replacement/upgrade in the air, so that’s still some time away from generating income. Currently all it’s doing is costing them more development money.(which is probably all borrowed money, so lucky for them that interest rates are so low.? Will they struggle if rates take a sudden upturn.?)

      I’m not ‘wishing Boeing away’. I am a ‘concerned-outsider’, looking at them from a long-way-off & wondering how bad things really are.?
      (if they’re actually in good shape really, then I’m very surprised that they’ve not yet brought-forward the all-new B737 replacement or the MoM B757 replacement.?)
      That’s kind-of the point of my concern. they’re patching-up the old bus yet again to carry-on some more & talk, talk, talking about a MoM, whilst apparently not doing a damned thing to make it happen.? And all the time Airbus’s A320 series is eating-up their market share & the other two (possibly soon to be plus Comac.?) are nibbling into the edges of the small-end of that market-share.?

      I don’t see much light at the end of Boeings tunnel,
      but as I said, I am looking from a long way off.?

      1. ghostwhowalksnz

        Ryan Airs O’Reilly calls people like you ‘aerosexuals’, they are love with planes to the extent that they ignore the reality of just a means of transport. All new this or that- tell them they are dreaming. The airlines dont want to pay for completely all new. They are obviously happy with the 737 with its all new engines ( latest Model) all new wing ( previous model) and various other changes ( bottom 1/3 of tail is ‘all new’, undercarriage has been jacked up over the years, cockpit of course is no comparison to original)

        1. Dan Dair

          Thanks very much for that complement, I’m sure.?

          To some extent I agree with your counterpoints about the ‘upgrade’ work done to the B737 airframe.
          However, IMO it is NOT a better aircraft than it’s matching A320 counterpart, in any area.? (& again IMO, is actually not quite as good in most)
          I can fully understand how price, availability, loyalty to Boeing across the fleet or the synergy of retaining the B737 as opposed to operating two models, whilst you change your fleet over to A320’s, can all keep Boeing ‘s B737 production busy.
          And additionally, I fly in them. They’re not bad aircraft & the passenger-experience isn’t noticeably different from an A320.

          My point all-along is that Boeing have created the B777.
          It’s the market-leader by a country mile. It’s the right size for the airlines & it’s effective as a safe & efficient people carrier.
          Boeing has (or at least had) the capability of producing an outstanding aircraft which the airlines are still clamouring to purchase.

          The B787 was beset by a significant number of development problems, arrived to market very late & then had a very significant operational issue. All of which cost Boeing billions of dollars. There is much talk (albeit, from where I sit, I’ve no idea if it’s accurate.?) that the B787 production-line will not generate an actual profit for the company until the second-half of the 20’s.?
          The ‘new’ foldy-winged B777 is still in development & so Boeing are again spending on (investing in) that project & not yet reaping any of the benefits.

          Meanwhile, because they can, Airbus have stuck a couple of frames in their A320, then a couple more and a couple more & realised it’s in a different market-sector & called it the A321.
          The A319, picks up those fleet-synergy orders which might otherwise go to Bombardier or Embarear. The A320 is the general work-horse that’s now making Airbus the kind of money that the B737 used to make for Boeing & the A321 is quietly eating-up the B757 market-sector, albeit with much less spectacular performance.?
          A330 production is trundling-along nicely with it’s new engines & nominal upgrades which have cost Airbus comparatively little to keep this model at the cutting-edge.?
          The A350’s are selling at at least as positive a rate as the B787, but importantly, Airbus is making money from them.!

          Boeing seem to talk a good game.
          Their marketing people talk about the new extended landing gear for the B737, (If they could make it work, it would give that old bus a completely new lease-of-life) but it’s not been seen yet.?
          They talk about the MoM aircraft. They clearly understand that without the B757 in production there’s a hole in their range. Too big for the current B737 too grow into, too small for the B787 to shrink-down to.?
          I don’t know how much Airbus charge for an A321 but I’ll bet they don’t have to discount it hard, because airlines haven’t got an matching alternative to choose from.?

          I’m not wishing for Boeing to make a swanky, all-new, supersonic, double-bubble, twin-aisle, MoM.? (it’d be fun, but I would never expect it)
          I’m looking at what Boeing appear to be actually doing,? (because I don’t work there & have no insight into what they might have up their (hangar-sized) sleeves.?) and I’m reading what Boeing are saying about their market share & market sectors
          and I’m wondering why they’re seemingly not doing anything about the things which THEY identify as problematic.?

          At some point in the future the B737 will get to be as big as it can possibly be. The engine cross section has already stopped it from utilising the GTF engine & it’s short legs limit it’s take-off rotation which presumably means it can’t get any longer behind the wings.?
          Sooner or later Boeing will have to bite-down on that particular bullet, or it is likely that one or more of the smaller manufacturers will be looking at developing competing versions of their own single-aisle offerings, to compete directly with the B737.?
          Yes, they can continue to ‘tinker’ with the design. It IS their prerogative, I accept that. To me though it seems like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
          On the other hand, there’s nothing really wrong with the airframe, so a B737 replacement doesn’t have to be ALL new.?
          Take the wings & wing-box (such as it is) off the existing plane & put a new & latest tech replacement into the space.
          Latest tech, ultra-strong, ultra-light wing-box. Latest tech composite wings. All the latest leading & trailing-edge components. Latest tech of wing fuel tanks & an all new landing gear.? (Hooray.!!)
          Maybe i’s only 40-50% new, but it’s new in all the most important areas. And it doesn’t have an engine option issues.?

          (I never mentioned the A380 in this little rant about how good Airbus’s portfolio is.
          That’s because Airbus have admitted that each one makes a profit, BUT that profit does NOT include development costs.
          The difference IMO is that Airbus is cash-rich & can afford, at least for the time-being, to support that model)

        2. Mark Skinner

          Yebbut Ghost, it’s Boeing that’s been spruiking a MoM product for some time now. It’s hardly self indulgent for people to wonder what’s happening in that space.

          1. Dan Dair

            Mark Skinner,
            “it’s Boeing that’s been spruiking a MoM product for some time now”
            I completely agree which is why I wrote;
            “I’m reading what Boeing are saying about their market share & market sectors
            and I’m wondering why they’re seemingly not doing anything about the things which THEY identify as problematic.?”

  5. comet

    It might be PR puff, but yesterday’s front page SMH feature about Ball’s Pyramid near Lord Howe Island mentioned you, Ben.

    Maybe it is a case of today’s Fairfax Media staff (or what’s left of them) remembering the glory days.

    1. Ben Sandilands

      That was one of the best assignments I ever had, but having persuaded Granny to back the attempt by climbers who are life long friends to this day with a 200 Pounds donation, we had to succeed. There was an ABC correspondent on Lord Howe listening to our radio calls to Clive Wilson, who provided the boat from the island to the pyramid, and Stan Fenton, the morse code operator who was sending my copy back to the GPO in Sydney warned me I could get scooped. So as soon as we had a summit and a story I swam for it, rather than trust an insecure radio call, and filed from the post office. The biggest risk which I was totally unaware of at that moment was a massive groper that Clive’s crew caught on a very strong line and landed on the deck, just as I was being hauled on board on the other side. An opportunistic groper could have taken off a leg. The Ansett flying board trip each way between LHI and Rose Bay in Sydney Harbour was something else. A truly remarkable way to fly.

      1. comet

        It’s an incredible story. And who would have thought that 52 years later it would be recounted on the front page of the Herald.

        I’ve heard of people getting their leg groped by opportunistic types, but never heard of an opportunistic groper taking the entire leg! The copy said ‘shark invested’ waters, but they didn’t know that the groper might be worse.

        And a flying boat trip from Lord Howe Island to Rose Bay is (unfortunately) something that I will never get to experience.

        1. ghostwhowalksnz

          Thats another tale Comet. The reason for the story rerun was of course the Fairfax reporters strike. Perhaps they wanted to make a point about the effort the reporters made in the ‘old days’

          1. Ben Sandilands

            On this occasion it’s all coincidental. I liked the story very much as a science story, with very little if anything to do with climbing, and had learned that it was going to be published this past weekend more than a month ago, which is consistent with the production schedule for long form features.
            These are very difficult times for colleagues who weren’t even born when I was the shipping cadet and so forth. I wish all of them the very best.

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