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The Comac C919 has received its type inspection authorization. (Photo: Comac)

Comac C919 Enters Final Testing Phase

Chinese aircraft manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China — shortened to Comac — has received the type inspection authorization for its C919 narrowbody aircraft, allowing it to move to the final phase of flight testing and eventual certification, FlightGlobal reports.

Comac will promptly begin testing the aircraft, and it hopes to receive an airworthiness certificate to begin deliveries to Chinese airlines by next year. There are six C919 prototypes spread across China, and all will apparently be involved in the testing process. This type inspection authorization, issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on Friday, means that Comac cannot make any more major changes to the C919’s structure.

Comac said it plans to carry out “intensive flight test missions” on the C919 to move toward authorization. The manufacturer has been testing its C919 privately since 2017, and last year it set the goal of launching operations with the jet by the end of 2021.

The C919’s launch customer will be China Eastern Airlines. There are currently around 815 orders for the C919, including 305 firm orders. All but one customer is Chinese airlines.

With this new aircraft, Comac hopes to become a major player on the global aircraft production scene. The C919 – which seats about 190 passengers – intends to compete directly with the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 family, which currently dominate the world aircraft market in their category.

There are questions, however, about how well the C919 will be able to challenge the 737 or A320. Chinese manufacturers like Comac have a messy track record when it comes to the creation of commercial jets. Completely new planes usually need time to prove themselves before they will be bought on a broad scale, and the C919 will be no exception to this theme.

It’s one thing for the C919 to be approved in China and ordered by Chinese airlines – many Chinese carriers, like Comac itself, are at least partially owned by the Chinese government, so it helps China if China’s airlines fly China’s planes – but other regulatory agencies will undoubtedly take more time to approve the C919.

Even if the C919 does get approved internationally, at a time when many carriers are moving to consolidate their fleets to cut costs and promote efficiency, not many will be eager to jump on ordering a new and unproven aircraft type.

It’s certainly possible that the C919 will eventually be used on a large scale around the world. At the very least, it’s possible that a later Comac model will succeed. There is little competition, for example, for Airbus’ A321XLR jet, and while there are signs that Boeing is working on its own re-engined 757 to compete, this could be a market that Comac could compete on while there aren’t many similar proven aircraft.

The bottom line is that the next few years will be pivotal for Comac. If test flights succeed, the manufacturer will have its first real substantial test in commercial service. If the C919 proves reliable, Comac may have a bright future. But for the time being, airlines outside China will probably not jump to order the C919.

John McDermott
John McDermott
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