China rallies aviation brainpower to get widebody C929 off the ground, amp up Airbus and Boeing competition

China’s state-owned aircraft manufacturer this week rallied 280 “experts and scholars” from various industries to seek breakthroughs in building its C929 widebody long-haul passenger jet amid intensifying competition with Airbus and Boeing.

The Shanghai-based Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) said through its official WeChat social media account on Wednesday that it had kicked off a conference with talent from 21 universities and seven civil aviation companies, among other organisations, on Monday amid efforts to build its largest civilian aircraft.

Experts in aerodynamics, airframe structures, electrical mechanical systems and propulsion systems would also meet for a week-long seminar, Comac said in the post that had been removed by the end of Wednesday, although the contents were still being circulated on state media.

You really need to have a pickup from the Chinese outbound travel market to get that demand

Eric Lin, UBS

Chinese fuselage manufacturer Huarui Aerospace Manufacturing, which was selected in 2021 to build the body of the C929, said in February that the first middle section would be delivered by September 2027.

The C929 would have around 280-400 seats, and a range of 12,000km (7,456 miles), according to Comac.

But the C929, due to rival the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 models, would require a stronger domestic outbound travel market and approvals from overseas aviation regulators to progress, said Eric Lin, head of greater China research with UBS in Hong Kong.

“The [narrowbody] C919 is now going into mass production, but the C929 is another story as a bigger aircraft for longer hauls,” Lin said, with planes of a similar size to the C929 intended for longer international routes.

“You really need to have a pickup from the Chinese outbound travel market to get that demand.”

Comac – whose narrowbody C919 began flying commercially last year on domestic routes – has indicated that the C929 would be largely home-grown, but Lin added that it is also not clear how the manufacturer would source the parts for the aircraft.

Analysts said the C919 is set to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families of aircraft because it is intended for mid-range flights.

The C919 still depends on foreign components, including for its engine produced by a joint venture between GE Aerospace of the US and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines.

That falls in line with China’s wider goal of technological self-sufficiency in the wake of trade and technological tensions with the West.


Why it took China’s home-grown C919 plane 15 years to start flying passengers

Why it took China’s home-grown C919 plane 15 years to start flying passengers

“As our country’s first independently developed intercontinental passenger aircraft, the C929 is of great significance for improving the quality of domestic commercial aircraft and promoting the development of the commercial aircraft industry,” Comac chairman He Dongfeng said in the WeChat post.

“Comac welcomes even more cooperation partners to enjoy joint wins from the opportunities and the future of large aircraft.”

Airbus and Boeing, though, are unlikely to be affected by the C929 because they have a “whole suite of long-haul aircraft options for their customers”, said John Grant, a senior analyst with British aviation intelligence firm OAG.

He forecast a “minimal impact” outside China.


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