|The C919 during its maiden flight on 5 May 2017|
|Role||Narrow-body twin jet airliner|
|First flight||5 May 2017|
|Introduction||Planned 2021 with China Eastern Airlines|
|Number built||3 as of December 2018|
|Program cost||$9.5B announced, $20B+ estimated|
The Comac C919 is a narrow-body twinjet airliner developed by Chinese aerospace manufacturer Comac. The development programme was launched in 2008, production of the prototype began in December 2011, it rolled out on 2 November 2015 and the aircraft's maiden flight was on 5 May 2017. Its first commercial deliveries are expected in 2021 to China Eastern Airlines. The aircraft, primarily constructed with aluminium alloys, is to be powered by either CFM International LEAP or ACAE CJ-1000A turbofan engines, and be able to carry 156 to 168 passengers in a normal operating configuration up to 5,555 km (3000 nmi). It is intended to compete primarily with the Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo. As of 31 August 2018[update], Comac has 1008 commitments including 305 firm orders, mostly from Chinese leasing companies or airlines, with the exception of GE.
For the model number, the C stands for "COMAC" and "China"; 9 is a homophonic pun in Chinese with "forever"; while 19 refers to its capacity of 190 passengers. The C also has the implication that forms an "ABC" parallel situation with Airbus and Boeing. In Mandarin Chinese, 9 (Chinese: 九; pinyin: jiǔ) is a homophone of 久, meaning "forever" as a Chengyu in Chinese: 天长地久; pinyin: tiān cháng dì jiǔ.
The 2008 program launch initially targeted a maiden flight in 2014. Comac applied for a type certificate for the aircraft from the Civil Aviation Authority of China on 28 October 2010. The company intends to manufacture up to 2,300 aircraft of that type. In June 2011, COMAC and Irish low-cost airline Ryanair signed an agreement to co-operate on the development of the C919 In 2012 Airbus' chief strategist Marwan Lahoud was assuming that the aircraft would offer competition to Airbus by 2020.
On 24 November 2011, Comac announced the completion of the joint definition phase, marking the end of the preliminary design phase for the C919, with estimated completion of the detailed design phase in 2012. Production of the first C919 prototype began on 9 December 2011. The C919's aerodynamics were designed with the help of the Tianhe-2 supercomputer. The annual production was targeted at 150 planes by 2020. Canada's Bombardier Aerospace has been collaborating since March 2012 on supply chain services, electrical systems, human interface and cockpit; and on flight training, flight-test support, and sales and marketing, from June 2013.
Its announced development budget is 58 billion yuan ($9.5 billion) but its actual cost is estimated at well over $20 billion. The flight testbed was expected to complete final assembly in 2014 and perform its first flight in 2015; however, delivery was delayed again until 2018 due to technical difficulties and supply issues. At the November 2014 Zhuhai Airshow, it was announced that the first flight would be delayed to 2017. On 2 November 2015, Comac rolled out its first C919 aircraft.
In May 2018, a composite wing development since 2012 was revealed years after abandoning it for a metallic one, as static and damage tolerance tests were completed, verifying the structural design and strength before full-size composite wingbox tests. On 12 July, the static test aircraft simulated a 2.5g, 150% ultimate load, bending wings by nearly three metres for three seconds.
High-speed taxi tests were completed in April 2017 and the first flight took place on 5 May 2017. At the time, Comac has a planned test programme of 4,200 flight hours and introduction to service in 2020. Slippage into 2021 was possible. The European Aviation Safety Agency is working to validate the Chinese type certificate. The 4,200h planned are higher than the 3,000h typically logged for the Airbus or Boeing narrowbodies, but lower than the 5,000h taken by the ARJ21.
Comac powered on its second prototype on 28 July 2017, targeting to fly it within the year for engine, APU, fuel system and extreme weather tests. The first has not flown since the maiden flight but no major issues have surfaced while small improvements are being made. The flight-test plan and modules was going to be detailed and will use six aircraft. On 28 September, it made its second flight at 10,000 ft (3,000 m), which lasted 2 hours 46 minutes, although it was supposed to last one more hour. While the second prototype is ground tested, this five-month interval is extraordinary: in 2013 the Airbus A350 flew again after five days and in 2015 the troubled Mitsubishi MRJ flew again after eight days.
On 3 November, it made its third flight in 3h 45min, reaching 3,000 m (9,800 ft). It was then transferred on 10 November from Shanghai to Xian to continue its flight test campaign, a 2h 24min, 1,300 km (700 nmi) flight reaching 7,800 m (25,600 ft) and Mach 0.74 (825 km/h; 445 kn).
The second prototype made its first flight on 17 December 2017. The first three prototypes will test its performance and dynamic or power systems including the turbofans. The fourth prototype will test the mission systems, like the avionics, and the electrical system. The fifth and sixth prototypes test passengers service, including the cabin and information system.
The delay between first and subsequent flights underline the program immaturity by maiden flight: flying early at low speed and altitude is possible but faster and higher is limited by aeroelastic flutter needing ground vibration testing and aircraft instrumentation which were not ready in May. Due to flight testing problems, the 2020 introduction previous schedule was delayed to 2021, for China Eastern Airlines. In February 2018, the first prototype was flying more than once a week.
In June 2018, Aviation Week reported the flight-test aircraft grounding for modifications, extending the schedule by three months but maintaining a 2020 certification target. The two prototypes were having their flaps and tailplanes modified, due to delamination of the carbon-fiber reinforced plastic elevators. Flight tests should restart in July 2018, fuel tanks were also modified. The third test aircraft was also being modified and maximum-rate pressurization was tested. As three other planes will be available in 2019, Comac maintains first deliveries for 2021.
Comac denied any grounding and highlighted that modifications are part of the flight test process, stating the two first aircraft were flying stability tests and checking systems. The first was calibrated and had its counterweight and trailing cone systems modified while the second had its functions and systems checked and will be transferred to the Dongying test base. The third was in final assembly with its wing and fuselage joined, cables and systems were being installed for a first flight target by the end of the year. On 12 July, the second prototype flew from Shanghai-Pudong to Dongying Airport in 1h 46min to allow for various meteorological conditions testing. In September, Comac expected to conduct 1,500 test flights for over 2,000 hours before the first delivery and planned to fly the third prototype before the end of 2018.
In October 2018, the flight-deck design is re-evaluated to comply with US FAR Part 25.1302, not necessary for CAAC but for FAA certification to sell it outside of China, as COMAC go through the learning curve of the aircraft design process, and developing indigenous competitors for the CFM Leap-1C would take at least another 15 years. By then, the two prototypes had flown less than 150 h, averaging less than 5 h per month each. To achieve certification in December 2020 and first delivery in 2021, the planned 4,200 h of flight tests would need 33 h a month each if the last four prototypes are evenly spaced before year-end-2019. Newest airliner designs like the Airbus A350 needed a 2,600 h campaign, and the Mitsubishi MRJ is expected to need 3,000 h. By 2018 end, the first prototype was to enter flutter flight tests after having completed ground tests. The third prototype made its maiden flight by 28 December over 1h 38 min.
Configuration and performance
The dimensions of the C919 are quite similar to those of the Airbus A320; its fuselage is 3.96 metres (13.0 ft) wide and 4.166 metres (13.67 ft) high with a 12.915 square metres (139.02 sq ft) cross-section. This may allow for a common unit load device to be used for both aircraft. It has a 33.6 metres (110 ft) wingspan (35.4 metres (116 ft) with winglets). The aircraft's intended payload capacity will be 20.4 tonnes. The design calls for cruise at Mach 0.785 (450 kn; 834 km/h) with an operating ceiling of 12,200 metres (39,800 feet). There will be two variants: the standard version with a 4,075 km (2,200 nmi) range, and a 5,555 km (2,999 nmi) extended-range version. The C919 is a cautious design, similar to the 30 years older A320.
The center wing box, outer wing box, wing panels, flaps, and ailerons are planned to be built in Xi'an, China; the center fuselage sections are planned to be built in Hongdu, China. Aluminium-lithium alloys account for 8.8% of the structure and composite materials for 12%. The air frame will be made largely of aluminum alloy. Aircraft design and assembly is performed in Shanghai.
The wing is supercritical, increasing aerodynamic efficiency by 20% and reducing drag by 8% compared to a non-supercritical one. The center wing box was originally intended to use carbon fibre composites. It was changed later to an aluminum design to reduce design complications.
The engine's nacelle, thrust reverser and exhaust system will be provided by Nexcelle, with such features as an advanced inlet configuration, the extensive use of composites and acoustic treatment and an electrically operated thrust reverser. Michelin will supply Air X radial tyres. Its integrated modular avionics architecture is based on Ethernet. The landing gear is made in China by a joint venture of Germany's Liebherr and Avic’s Landing Gear Advanced Manufacturing Corp: Liebherr LAMC Aviation.
While the airframe is entirely made by Chinese Avic, most systems are made by Western-Chinese joint-ventures: with UTAS for the electric power, fire protection and lighting; with Rockwell Collins for the cabin systems and avionics, with Thales for the IFE, with Honeywell for the flight controls, APU, wheels and brakes; with Moog for the high lift system; with Parker for the hydraulics, actuators and fuel systems, with Liebherr for the landing gear and air management; and the CFM engine and Nexcelle nacelle are entirely foreign.
The first CJ-1000AX demonstrator assembly was completed in December 2017 after an 18-month process, for an after 2021 planned service entry. Debugging was completed by 30 March 2018, culminating in May 2018 with its first power-on in a test cell in Shanghai, reaching a core speed of 6,600 rpm.
In 2012 the C919 order book stood at 380 units worth US$26 billion, and averaging $68.4 million. FlightGlobal's Ascend market values in 2013 were $49.2 million for the Airbus A320neo, 51% less than its $100.2 million list price and $51.4 million for the Boeing 737 MAX-8, 49% less than its $100.5 million list price. In June 2015, the China National Radio predicted a $50 million price, cheaper than the B737 or A320 list prices.
The Chinese airlines that have placed orders for the C919 already have either the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 in their fleets. In 2013, Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times complained that an Aviation Week editorial about the bleak prospects for the aircraft "maliciously disparaged the future outlook for the C919".
COMAC aims to take a fifth of the global narrowbody market and a third of the Chinese market by 2035. It expects 2,000 sales in the next 20 years. China considers it as a source of national pride. The Financial Times states the C919 is outdated by 10–15 years compared to the latest versions of the A320 and Boeing 737, and will probably cost more to operate. Its range of 2,200–3,000 nmi (4,100–5,600 km) falls short of the 3,400 and 3,550 nmi (6,300 and 6,570 km) of the A320neo and 737 Max 8, the C919 payload-range and economics are similar to the current single-aisles, but it will compete with the Neo and Max. FlightGlobal forecasts 1,209 deliveries: 687 standard and 522 stretched variants, for 85% in China.
At the November 2010 Zhuhai Airshow, Comac announced orders for 55 C919 aircraft from six airlines, with an additional 45 options. The purchasing airlines or lessors included China Eastern Airlines, Air China, Hainan Airlines, China Southern Airlines, CDB Leasing Company, and GE Capital Aviation Services. On 19 October 2011, Chinese ICBC Leasing ordered 45 C919s and agreed to be the launch customer. On 11 November 2014, Comac announced at the 2014 Zhuhai Airshow that China Merchants Bank's aircraft leasing division made a firm commitment for 30 C919s, and that total orders were now up to 450 aircraft.
At the June 2015 Paris Air Show, Ping An Leasing signed a letter of intent for 50 C919s, becoming one of Comac's largest customers, and Puren Group signed a letter of intent for seven C919s and seven ARJ21s, intended for the start-up Puren Airlines. In November 2016 COMAC has received an order for 20 C919s including 5 firm from Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Financial Leasing and for 36 C919s from CITIC Group Financial Leasing including 18 firm. While no down payments were needed before its maiden flight, 500,000 yuan ($76,000) were deposited subsequently for each firm order. The last ICBC Leasing order for 55 on 5 December 2017 brought the order book to 785. In February 2018, its total order book was for 815, before the order for 200 from HNA Group in June 2018, along 100 ARJ-21s.
|Air China (Beijing)||5||15||20||15 Nov 2010|
|China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai||5||15||20||15 Nov 2010|
|China Southern Airlines, Guangzhou||5||15||20||15 Nov 2010|
|GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS) + 13 Nov 2012||10||10||20||15 Nov 2010|
|Hainan Airlines, Haikou, under Grand China Air||15||5||20||15 Nov 2010|
|ICBC Leasing, Beijing||45||19 Oct 2011|
|Sichuan Airlines||20||21 Oct 2011|
|BOCOMM Leasing, Shanghai||30||23 Nov 2011|
|China Aircraft Leasing Company (CALC), Hong Kong||20||9 Dec 2011|
|Bank of China – BOC Aviation||20||14 Feb 2012|
|China Development Bank Leasing Company, Beijing||10||0||10||29 Jun 2012|
|Agricultural Bank of China Financial Leasing||45||2 Jul 2012|
|China Construction Bank Financial Leasing||26||24||50||19 Sep 2012|
|Joy Air, Xi'an||20||13 Nov 2012|
|Hebei Airlines, Shijiazhuang||20||13 Nov 2012|
|Industrial Bank Co. Financial Leasing, Fuzhou||20||29 Oct 2013|
|China Merchants Bank Leasing||0||30 (MOU)||30||12 Nov 2014|
|Hua Xia Bank Financial Leasing||0||20 (LOI)||20||30 Jan 2015|
|Ping An Insurance Leasing, Shanghai||0||50||50||17 Jun 2015|
|0||17 Jun 2015|
|16 Sep 2015|
|CITIC Group Financial Leasing||18||18||36||1 Nov 2016|
|Shanghai Pudong Development Bank Financial Leasing Co||5||15||20||1 Nov 2016|
|China Everbright Group Financial Leasing Co||30||30||13 Jun 2017|
|China Nuclear E&C Group||20||20||40||19 Sep 2017|
|Huabao Leasing||15||15||30||19 Sep 2017|
|AVIC International Leasing||15||15||30||19 Sep 2017|
|Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) Financial Leasing||20||10||30||19 Sep 2017|
|ICBC Leasing, Beijing||55||5 Dec 2017|
|HNA Group||200||2 Jun 2018|
|Seats||168 (1-class) / 158 (2-class)|
|Length||38.9 m / 127.6 ft|
|Wingspan||35.8 m / 117.5 ft|
|Height||11.95 m / 39.2 ft|
|MTOW||72,500 kg / 159,835 lb|
ER: 77,300 kg / 170,417 lb
|Maximum payload||20,400 kg / 45,000 lb|
|Maximum fuel||19,560 kg / 43,122 lb|
|Empty weight||42,100 kg / 92,815 lb|
|Turbofan (2x)||CFM International LEAP-1C|
|Thrust per engine||31,000 lbf (137.9 kN)|
|Cruise||Mach 0.785 (450 kn; 834 km/h)|
|Range||4,075 km / 2,200 nm|
ER: 5,555 km / 3,000 nm
|Approach speed||135 kn (250 km/h)|
|Takeoff||2,000 m (6,600 ft)|
ER: 2,200 m (7,200 ft)
|Landing||1,600 m (5,200 ft)|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Comac C919.|
- Official website
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