The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China has been sharing details about its new C919 aircraft and its early vital statistics have it taking a market space directly between the Boeing 737-800/A320-200 and the smaller 737-700/A319-100.
The C919 will seat 168 in a single-class economy configuration or 156 in a mixed class arrangement with two variants, a standard and extended range model. The standard range will fly 2,200 nm and 3,000 nm for the extended range model. The range comparison puts the performance of the C919 slightly below that of the comparable narrowbody offerings from Airbus and Boeing. Flight also reported from Asian Aerospace 2009 that Comac plans smaller (130-seat) and larger (190-seat) variants of the C919.
This particular date, September 9, 2009, or 09/09/09 no matter how you write your date, actually holds the explanation for why the C919 is called the C919. Nine is a number of special significance in Chinese culture. Just as the number eight was selected for the 787-8 and the A380-800 as a Chinese symbol of good luck, Comac opted to use 9 for its symbolism as well.
According to Wikipedia:
The number 9 (九, Pinyin: jiŭ, jyutping: gau2), being the greatest of single-digit numbers, was historically associated with the Emperor of China; the Emperor's robes often had nine dragons, and Chinese mythology held that the dragon has nine children.
Moreover, the number 9 is a homophone of the word for "longlasting" (久), and as such is often used in weddings.
Longevity appears to be at the center of Boeing's thinking about its future Chinese competitor as well as well. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney last week addressed the question of longevity and customer commitment to Chinese commercial aircraft.
If you're sitting on a panel in 10 years talking about a Chinese participation in the manufacturing of airplanes, what kinds of things do you think you'll be saying regarding technical proficiency, marketing success, product design globally?
I think we'll be saying that technically, they can do it. I don't know if it's 10 years or 15 years, but -- I would still guess at that stage, though, that customer acceptance will still be out in front of them.
Because when you build these machines, the issue is rarely, can you build it? The issue is, will the company stand behind it for 25 years? And will the company have the wherewithal to evolve derivatives the next fleet of airplanes, and all the services that come with selling these things?
I mean, when you look at a typical airplane and you sell it to somebody, the engine is rebuilt a couple of times; the airplane is rebuilt a couple of times; there's improvements that are spiraled in while you do that. And so a customer needs to see an enterprise that will not only serve them but will have the wherewithal to keep improving the product. And that is what the Chinese will have to eventually overcome before they sell a lot of these to a lot of customers.
But technically, they do a lot of the components today. They're learning how to assemble them in Tianjin right now. They've got to overcome the Shanghai experience in the late '80s, in terms of customer perception. But technically, 10 to 15 years; customer acceptance a little bit beyond that. That would be their challenge.
Every new aircraft model tends to invite comparisons to previous models that have come before it. Fellow journalist and blogger Kieran Daly joked that it looked like a Bombraer-Boebus C7320. The one element that jumped out at me were the engines, which bear a striking resemblance to the GEnx-1B and Trent 1000 nacelles on the 787 with the elongated engine cowl for improved laminar flow.
Goodrich, meanwhile, has formed a joint venture with Xian Aircraft in China in an effort to supply the C919's landing gear and Honeywell, which provides flight control systems for Chinese commercial aircraft, has held talks with Comac.Comac has also touted an efficiency improvement of 15% over the A320 and 737 while offering the aircraft for a lower cost than its western competitors, setting up a price war if the market is receptive to the product, especially outside of China's borders.
First flight of the C919 is scheduled for 2014 with entry into service in 2016.