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China’s COMAC Begins Developing New Widebody Aircraft

The Chinese manufacturer is reportedly developing a new widebody jet to compete with Airbus and Boeing.

Boarding a COMAC C919 (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Lei Yan)

Chinese aircraft manufacturer COMAC has begun work on a new widebody airliner dubbed the C939. The South China Morning Post, citing unnamed sources, reports that COMAC has already developed design concepts for the jet, but it will still be years before an actual prototype is built.

Details about the program are currently few. COMAC has not yet commented on the development of a new type, instead saying that official word will come. However, the C939 could potentially seat up to 390 passengers, allowing it to compete with the largest Boeing 777 and Arbus A350 aircraft.

COMAC already has a widebody aircraft in development, dubbed as the C929. The aircraft will aim to compete with the Boeing 787 and Airbus A330. It will have 280 seats and a range of nearly 6,500 nautical miles. The C929 was originally designed in conjunction with United Aircraft, a Russian company, but it became a wholly Chinese project after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The COMAC C919, which has been flying since its certification in late 2022, has amassed nearly 1,000 firm orders, most of which come from Chinese-owned airlines and leasing firms.

Having multiple widebody aircraft in production would put COMAC on par with the other two major international aircraft manufacturers: Boeing has both the 777 and 787, and Airbus has the A330neo and A350. However, both of Boeing’s aircraft are facing delays and production issues despite having significant orders. The A350 is performing well, though the A330neo’s orders have fallen short of expectations.

A Long Road to Scaling Up

This does not mean that either of COMAC’s widebody aircraft will compete long-term on a global scale. The C919 has not yet been certified in any major aviation market outside of China and only four have been delivered.

What COMAC aircraft could do is reduce China’s dependence on Western aircraft down the road. This, again, is not something that will happen soon; four deliveries in nearly 18 months is not a sustainable rate, and the Chinese market is so big that Airbus and Boeing both have manufacturing facilities in China.

Still, assuming the Chinese firm can continue ironing out the issues that are slowing down deliveries, there is a world where the manufacturer plays a significant role, especially as China’s market continues to grow.

More details on the C939 are surely to come as it enters the next step of development. Comparisons between official details on the C929 and C939 will be notable, as will initial orders for each type. However, neither is expected to even begin test flights, let alone enter service, for years to come.

John McDermott

Author

  • John McDermott

    John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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