China begins work on new C939 widebody jet, going bigger and bolder after C919’s success

Exclusive | China begins work on new C939 widebody jet, going bigger and bolder after C919’s success

Having established its bona fides as a producer of commercial aircraft with the launch of the narrowbody C919, China has already begun work on the C939, a new widebody plane and the third in its series of home-grown airliners.

The move sets down another marker for the country as it strives to carve out a piece of the lucrative and highly technological industry, currently dominated by Western conglomerates Boeing and Airbus.

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) – the state-owned manufacturer of the C919, which has already entered service on several domestic routes – has sketched out preliminary designs for the new craft, though it would be many years before these early concepts materialise into a testable prototype, a source familiar with the matter said.

Meanwhile, the C929 – Comac’s other in-development widebody plane designed to travel international routes of up to 12,000km (7,500 miles – is speculated to be on par with some aspects of mainstream competitors like Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, a second source said, adding progress is “in full swing”.

The C929 was originally announced as part of a joint venture with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), but the latter company’s involvement has been in doubt since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions levied against Moscow by the West.

The second source confirmed that Russia had already pulled out of the programme, but dismissed concerns this would delay the aircraft’s debut.

“Russia’s departure does have some impact, but we can manage that … It’s not entirely a bad thing,” the second source said.

“Work [on the C929] is under way and progressing smoothly, utilising the same experience, support and system coordination we already have for the design and development of the C919 … The time needed can be similar.”

Last month, Comac held a week-long research meeting for the C929, dividing attendees – top talent from 21 universities and seven civil aviation companies, among others – into six groups covering aerodynamics, airframe structures, composite structures, avionics and electrical systems, mechanics and propulsion.

China is poised to overtake the US as the world’s largest market for aviation services in the coming decades, overtaking the US in the 2030s or 2040s according to varying estimates by Airbus, Boeing and the International Air Transport Association.

Even with the skies mostly populated by planes from the US-based Boeing and Europe’s Airbus, Beijing has doggedly continued to cultivate home-grown rivals to the Western giants. Its drive to obtain a share of the market from the two major producers – both at home and abroad – is beginning to bear fruit, starting with the C919.



China’s C919: first home-grown airliner makes international debut

China’s C919: first home-grown airliner makes international debut

Comac’s inaugural model can host 192 passengers for distances up to 5,555km, and is most similar in size to Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus 320.

It has flown commercial routes with China Eastern Airlines since May 2023 – when a highly publicised maiden flight carried passengers from Shanghai to Beijing – and made its international debut at February’s Singapore Airshow.

The Shanghai-based manufacturer has already delivered five C919s to China Eastern, and after securing separate 100-unit orders from that airline and the country’s two other major state-owned carriers – Air China and China Southern Airlines – it is now seeking to expand its production capacity with a second assembly line.

An intensifying trade conflict with the West, already affecting industries like electric vehicles and solar panels, has prompted fears similar measures could be enacted to limit the procurement of components for civil aviation.

To head off those worries, Beijing is also exploring ways to close gaps in essential technologies and making plans to self-source most parts on the C919, from landing gear to full engines.



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