China’s wide-body C919 aircraft will soon be flying above the clouds — safe, inexpensive, comfortable and environmentally friendly — a clear message to powerful western aircraft manufacturers.
In the remaining four months of this year, an aircraft could be approved that could one day pose a threat to Airbus and Boeing.
And that comes as no surprise to Tobias Grosche, a professor at the University of Worms and an expert in flight planning and passenger demand forecasts.
“The fact that the first ‘COMAC’ aircraft is about to receive national approval is only the logical step in the efforts of the Chinese government, also in the aviation sector, towards the wester to unlock countries, ” Grosche told the Business Insider in a special report.
COMAC is the abbreviation for an amalgamation of Chinese companies that is likely to be viewed critically in Hamburg, Toulouse and Seattle.
It stands for Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China and brings together design and research centers, universities, and aluminum and steel manufacturers.
The C919 will offer space for 158 to 168 passengers, depending on how many business class and how many economy class seats the airlines want to install.
For comparison: the Airbus A320 flies for Lufthansa with space for up to 168 passengers, the Boeing 737 has space for around 150 passengers, i.e. similar sizes. The two types of aircraft are also similar in terms of range, the report said.
Depending on the version, the Airbus A320 can travel up to 5,700 kilometers, the Chinese counterpart C919 promises a range of up to 5,555 kilometers.
This means that the Chinese aircraft could, for example, reach all national destinations from Shanghai in eastern China — and get even further.
Beijing has made no secret of its desire to break the western giants’ duopoly, helping smooth the C919’s development with up to US$72 billion in state-related support, according to estimates from US think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
According to Simple Flying, the Shanghai Aircraft Airworthiness Certification Center of CAAC (SAACC) signed and issued the first Type Inspection Authorization (TIA) for the C919 program.
This means that the plane has officially entered into “authority certification” flight testing.
However, natural icing trials, which were set to take place in March 2021, have had to be postponed until fall.
While the aircraft is expected to be approved and will start scheduled service with OTT Airlines, a subsidiary of the largest airline in Asia, China Eastern Airlines, it is doubtful that this first-generation C919 will challenge the world’s aircraft manufacturers, Business Insider reported.
Not yet, anyway.
Says Grosche: “A second or third generation could be dangerous for Airbus and Boeing.
“Ultimately, it’s an economic question. If a Chinese model is efficient and safe, I see no reason why western airlines should not also operate these aircraft.”
After all, Lufthansa, for example, not only has Airbus and Boeing aircraft in its fleet, but also models from its subsidiary Cityline the former Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier and the Brazilian Embraer.
Furthermore, Grosche is certain that COMAC will one day be able to offer the C919 for sale at comparatively cheap prices.
Even Guillaume Faury, Airbus chief executive, has acknowledged COMAC’s rise, telling an industry event “we will probably go from a duopoly to a triopoly, at least on the single aisle, by the end of the decade.”
Overall, a total of 815 orders have been placed by 28 customers. China Eastern’s Big Three counterparts – China Southern and Air China will also deploy the C919, along with other powerhouses such as Joy Air and Hainan Airlines.
There has also been some international interest.
The head of the low-cost airline Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, announced ten years ago that he wanted to support alternatives to Boeing and Airbus and signed a non-binding letter of intent with COMAC, the report said.
And while Boeing and Airbus have the advantage of having been on the road around the world for decades, China, which historically plays the long game, is looking much further into the future.
The type CR929 is supposed to compete with long-haul airliners like the Airbus A330 and the Boeing 787.
And the type CR929-600 could have a range of up to 12,000 kilometers and space for up to 280 passengers.
What are Boeing and and Airbus up against? The C919 will be state-of-the-art, both inside and out, along with some refreshing updates.
While the major elements of the airplane such as the nose, fuselage, outer wing, vertical stabilizer, horizontal stabilizer and movable surfaces have been independently designed by COMAC, the company has enlisted Western expertise, notably that of French high-tech industrial group and aero-engine manufacturer Safran, which is producing the aircraft’s cabin and nacelles, CNN Travel reported.
The C919’s LEAP-1C engines are being produced by CFM, a joint venture between US engine-maker GE Aviation and Safran. Subsidiary Safran Cabin says it will supply the lavatories, galleys and cockpit doors for the C919.
The company told CNN that “the lavatories are larger than what is now commonly seen on competing aircraft.”
That will be welcome news for passengers forced to do contortions in modern airplane toilet compartments.
More spacious lavatories would mean it would be possible to move around with less contact with surfaces, and it could also make cleaning and maintenance a less onerous task for the crew that scramble on board between flights to disinfect the toilets — a boon in the Covid era.
The back of the aircraft will feature a full-sized galley with ample space for the flight crew to work.
Safran says it “recognizes that many of its airline partners based in China will fly these aircraft on short routes within China, which makes meal service a challenge.”
To address the compressed flight times on domestic routes, Safran says its cabin designers have come up with an “ergonomic galley design, with large work surfaces, equipped with easy-to-maneuver “Hybrite S trolleys,” which help the crew get meals, snacks and drinks out to passengers quickly.
Spacious galleys are also likely to be a selling point worldwide as airlines work towards complying with new inflight catering guidelines set out by the Airline Catering Association.
As for environmental concerns, Safran says it “has made advancements in its composite structures which enable interiors to be both lightweight and durable, helping to reduce carbon footprint while withstanding the rigors of short-haul service.”
The aircraft’s engines are also claimed to be more efficient.
The CFM LEAP-1C engine, which was selected by COMAC as the sole Western engine option for the C919, offers “a 15% reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions versus current engines, and up to a 50% margin on NOx emissions,” says Safran.
The engines will also mitigate noise in and around the airports where the C919 operates.
The C919’s cockpit is being developed by the Chinese Aeronautical Radio Electronics Research Institute (CARERI), and will feature integrated 15.4-inch avionic Display Head Assembly units coming from Barco Display Systems of Atlanta, Ga.
Sources: Business Insider, Simple Flying, Financial Times, Center for Strategic and International Studies, CNN Travel, Aviation Today