COMAC C919 Guide and Specifications: China’s Chance to Corner the Competition

For decades now, Airbus and Boeing have had a stranglehold on the passenger transport airliner market, creating a highly competitive duopoly. The closest competitor to the two had been McDonnell Douglas, which wasn’t much of a threat by the time Boeing absorbed in 1997.

Since then, all large passenger airliners in the sky have been manufactured by either Airbus or Boeing. That officially changed on May 28th, 2023, when China Eastern flew its first COMAC C919 from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) to Beijing Capital Airport (PEK).

The C919 is the first large narrowbody passenger airliner produced by China’s COMAC. It’s attempting to disrupt the status quo, inject some excitement into the passenger jetliner market, and offer airlines more options when choosing their short-haul aircraft.

Aviation professionals are ecstatic that another manufacturer has entered the fray. The more competition, the more beneficial it is to us. A clean-sheet design by a new company brings with it many unknowns and the possibility for innovation, and I’m intrigued to see how COMAC aircraft differ from the competition.

comac c919

The Manufacturer

The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. More commonly known as COMAC, it is a state-owned aviation company and seven other state-controlled organizations. It also has no private or foreign parties involved.

COMAC was founded on February 11, 2008, and is headquartered in Pudong, Shanghai, after the central government approved it as a “significantly special” project a year before. Since its establishment, the company has received unbridled support and a blank check for its operations.

In 2020 the company received between $49 and $72 billion for its research, development, and operations expenses.

The company is part of China’s drive to become self-reliant technologically, as it hopes to eventually have all Chinese airlines operating COMAC aircraft in the future, a lofty goal but one that’s entirely possible given the country’s immense power and funding.

In my opinion, China starting its aerospace program is brilliant. Because building an entire lineup of aircraft from scratch is costly, engineers will have to throw things at the wall to see what sticks when innovating, which increases costs substantially, making failure much more likely than success.

An example of a failed attempt is the SpaceJet project by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The manufacturing giant attempted to build its commercial jetliner in the late 2000s. The company had invested $7.6 billion (1 trillion Yen) and 15 years into the project. Eventually, MHI gave up on the aircraft because it was getting too expensive and was no longer feasible.

MHI is not a small company and already has plenty of experience producing aircraft parts. The company makes several pieces of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, such as the wings. However, it still couldn’t manage to create an adequate competitor.

China and COMAC have a real chance of succeeding with their planned lineup. So far, the company has three products: the regional ARJ21, the narrowbody C919, and the widebody CR929, which is still in pre-production.

COMAC C919 Design and Development

comac c919 design


COMAC aimed to create a homegrown airliner for China to compete with its Western competitors. COMAC launched the C919 project in 2008 and targeted a 2014 maiden flight. With that in mind, designers at COMAC didn’t try redesigning the wheel with the C919. Instead, they played it safe.

When the aircraft was announced, many saw it as a severe threat to the status quo, given that China’s full might will be behind the project to produce a worthy competitor to the A320 and B737.

COMAC works closely with the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), which makes the country’s military aircraft and aviation power units. But it isn’t all in-state. Like its Western counterparts, the manufacturer also works with multiple foreign manufacturers who provide parts, complete systems, and other services for the C919.

The first partnership was signed in 2012 when COMAC began working with Canada’s Bombardier Aerospace to supply the C919 with electrical systems, human interfacing, and other technology. However, the subsequent purchase of Bombardier by Airbus ended that partnership.

Still, many other manufacturers are actively involved in the C919.

Here is a complete list of suppliers for the C919, according to Modern

EnginesLeap X1C engine supplied by CFM International
AvionicsRockwell Collins, Honeywell, CETC, GE AVIC
Fight Control System (Full Authority Fly by Wire and Advanced Active Control Technology)Parker, AVIC, Honeywell, MOOG
Landing Gear SystemLiebherr
Hydraulic SystemParker, AVIC
Air Conditioning SystemLiebherr
Electric SystemHamilton, Sundstrand, AVIC
Flight Deck and Cabin InteriorFACC, XML
Auxiliary Power UnitHoneywell, AVIC
Fire ProtectionKIDDE, AVIC
Lighting SystemGoodrich, AVIC, TM, Jiuzhou, Eaton


The C919 doesn’t have any groundbreaking features. It is a twin-engine, swept-wing, narrowbody jetliner with retractable landing gear and a conventional tail, much like its main competitors, the Airbus 320neo and Boeing 737 MAX 8. There aren’t any bells or whistles to write about, and all three aircraft are nearly indistinguishable.

The C919 fuselage has dimensions similar to those of its Airbus counterpart. COMAC’s motivation for copying the A320 lies in the aircraft ability to carry cargo in its LD3 Unit Load Devices, a capability the B737 family lacks.

The C919 is mainly built out of aluminum alloys, with only around 12% of the aircraft utilizing composite materials, which have become the new standard in commercial aviation. The composite materials components include the leading and trailing edges of the wing, winglet, wing fairings, empennage, flight controls, secondary bearings, and the center wing box.

The C919 also utilizes third-generation aluminum-lithium alloys, which account for 7.4% of the airframe’s total weight. The remaining 80% of the aircraft is made of metal alloys such as duralumin and steel.

The COMAC C919 uses comparable composite materials to the A320neo, an aircraft introduced eight years prior. However, current-generation aircraft tend to utilize composite materials significantly more. For example, composites comprise more than 50% of the Airbus A350 and Boeing B787 Dreamliner, introduced in 2015 and 2011, which makes the mostly metal structure of the C919 outdated.

Engine Options

When COMAC announced the C919 project, Pratt & Whitney and CFM International offered COMAC their next-generation engines, the PW1000G and the LEAP-1C, respectively. COMAC chose the LEAP-1C to power the C919 exclusively.

The LEAP-1C produces a maximum of 138 kN (31,000 lbf) at takeoff (more than its Airbus and Boeing counterparts). CFM International claims that the engine has 15% lower CO2 emissions and up to 50% lower NOx emissions than previous generation engines. As of 2023, the CFM International LEAP-1C is the only engine option available for customers of the C919.

China is also on the path to equipping future C919s with its homegrown power unit, the ACAE CJ-1000A high bypass turbofan, manufactured by AVIC. COMAC expects the engine to be powering C919s by 2030.

In March 2023, the engine was installed on a Xian Y-20 military aircraft for flight testing. The engine is expected to output between 111 kN (25,000 lbf) and 131 kN (29,500 lbf), although no official numbers are available now.

Visual Characteristics

Visually, the C919 looks more like the A320neo than the B737. It has a rounded nose, a similar tail shape, and a tall frontal landing gear. However, there are distinct characteristics, though the windscreen design differs from the other two. The C919 has a downsloping window, the A320 features a notched window, and the B737 features a V-shaped one.

The most significant differences are the design of the wingtips of the three aircraft. The A320neo features blended winglets, the B737 sports split winglets, and the C919 has very subtle winglets.

COMAC C919 Performance and Specifications

comac c919 performance
ParameterStandardExtended Range
Exterior Dimensions
Length38.9 m (127.6 ft)
Tail Height11.95 m (39.21 ft)
Fuselage Diameter3.95 m (12.96 ft)
Wingspan35.80 m (117.45 ft)
Wheelbase13.47 m (39.61 ft)
Wheel Track7.62 m (25 ft)
Interior Dimensions
Height2.25 m (7.38 ft)
Width3.90 m (12.80 ft)
Maximum Cargo Volume45.2 m³ (1,596.2 ft³)
Maximum Ramp Weight75,500 kg (166,448 lbs)79,300 kg (174,826 lbs)
Maximum Take-Off Weight75,100 kg (165,567 lbs)78,900 kg (173,944 lbs)
Maximum Landing Weight67,800 kg (149,473 lbs)
Maximum Zero Fuel64,600 kg (41,667 lbs)
Operating Empty Weight45,700 kg (100,751 lbs)
Maximum Payload18,900 kg (41,667 lbs)
Range with Max Payload2,200 NM (4,074 km)3,000 NM (5,556 km)
Cruise Speed450 kts (833 kmph)
Maximum Speed520 kts (963 kmph)
Useable Fuel Capacity24,917 L
Takeoff Distance (SL, ISA, MTOW)2,012 m (6,600 ft)2,125 m (6,972 ft)
Landing Distance (SL, ISA, MTOW)1,584 m (5,200 ft) 
Service Ceiling12,100 m (39,700 ft)
Takeoff Thrust138 kN (31,000 lbf)
Flight Crew2
Occupancy (2 Class)156
Occupancy Max192
Flight DeckProprietary Flight Deck by Rockwell Collins
Engine(s) x 2CFM International LEAP 1C

According to the specifications of the C919, its performance is more akin to the 30-year-old A320 instead of its aimed competitor, the next generation A320neo.

COMAC C919 Orders and Deliveries

c919 china eastern

In August 2023, in an interview with China Today, COMAC Chairman He Dongfeng said the manufacturer has received over 1,061 orders for the C919. Most orders are by state airlines expanding their fleets due to the rapid growth in the Asian Aviation Industry.

Brunei’s Gallop Air will be the first international airline to utilize the C919. The airline has placed an order for 15 aircraft. Furthermore, Indonesia’s TransNusa is considering purchasing COMAC’s single-aisle aircraft after its success with the manufacturer’s regional aircraft, the ARJ21.

COMAC C919 Price

While it may fall behind the A320neo and B737 MAX 8 in performance categories, it has a lower purchase price, which makes it an attractive option for smaller airlines that run regional routes but require more seat capacity.

The A320neo is $111 million, while the B737 MAX 8 is $106 million. In comparison, the C919 costs only $99 million. Airlines often receive discounts from manufacturers. For example, state-owned airline China Eastern, which purchased 100 hundred C919 aircraft, received a discount of nearly 50% on the list price.

The discounted price allows the C919 to compete more equally against the more expensive A320neo and B737 MAX 8.

COMAC C919 Operation Costs

The C919’s operation costs can be separated into fixed and variable costs. There is very little information on the C919’s operational costs. However, they should be comparable to the older A320ceo and B787-800.

Fixed Costs

Fixed costs are independent of utilization. These costs will remain static whether the aircraft is parked over the year or if it flies 10,000 hours.

Lease Cost

Most aircraft, especially jetliners, are seldom purchased outright. Almost all jetliners are leased over a standard industry period of 25 years. The annual lease of a C919 at the list price will be $3.69 million.

Crew Salary

The C919 is operated by a flight crew of two and a cabin crew of five, depending on the configuration (dual/single class). The average salary for a captain of an A320 is $192,100, with an average base pay of $139,400 and $52,600 in additional pay.

For the first officer, Airlines pay between $144,024 to $154,642. This is a rough estimate for the entire industry, but Emirates is one of the better-paying airlines. The pay range varies wildly based on the airline and the pilot’s years of experience. Glassdoor estimates the range that A320 pilots earn between $355,000 and $36,000.

The cabin crew for an A320 will earn a minimum of $23,500 annually. This would mean that the annual crew cost for a C919 is roughly $422,600.

Maintenance Costs

The maintenance costs for a C919 are unavailable as the aircraft has just entered service.


Airlines have to abide by the ICAO laws and treaties. Airlines require insurance to compensate passengers and third parties for incidents and accidents. Airlines often have additional policies to protect the airline, aircraft, and flight crew from liability.

Insurance costs are nearly impossible to estimate as they depend on the airline, its fleet, the routes it flies, and other considerations.

Variable Costs

towing c919

These costs are directly proportional to the number of hours the aircraft flies. It is estimated that the C919 operating cost is closer to the A320ceo than the A320neo. However, fuel burn will be considerably less as the CFM LEAP-1C engines are more efficient than those on the A320ceo.

Using this, we can estimate that a C919 flying 450 hours a year will incur a variable cost of $3,600,000.


The most considerable cost for any aircraft is fuel. Fly more, burn more. Fuel burn varies depending on atmospheric conditions, altitude, thrust level, weight, and level of skin contamination.

An A320 burns an average of 2,500 kg an hour, roughly 780 US gal (2,952 l). The global cost for a gallon of Jet-A1 is $2.06 on December 13, 2023. Which means the annual variable cost of fuel per hour is $1,608. The yearly cost of 450 hours per year is $723,060.

The above amount is a ballpark estimate as the fuel price varies wildly based on the country.

Maintenance Costs

As mentioned before, no information is available for the variable costs of the C919 from its sole operator, China Eastern Airlines.

Operating Costs

Operating costs for a flight depend on various factors and the length of the flight itself—frequency of meals and refreshments, crew overnight costs, landing and navigation fees, etc.

Storage Costs

There are two methods of storing an aircraft: Ramp parking and hangar storage.

Tie-down storage involves renting space on the ramp to park the aircraft. Ramp parking is relatively inexpensive, but it provides the bare minimum. The aircraft is unsafe from the elements and incidents with airport vehicles and other agents.

Hangar storage offers the most protection and reduces the chances of damaging the aircraft. However, most airlines do not keep their aircraft on the ground for extended periods.

COMAC C919 Variants

Like its competitors, the C919 will have six variants: baseline, stretched, shortened, business, freighter, and special. Information about the models is limited. However, the models will cover a range of 130 to 240 seats.

The extended range and the stretched versions. The extended range can fly up to 3,000 NM (5,556 km), which is 800 NM (1,481 km) increase over the standard version’s range of 2,200 NM (4,074 km).

COMAC C919 Competitors

Airbus A320

The C919 is meant to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, specifically the A320neo and 737 MAX 8. However, the seating capacity, size, and performance values of the C919 are lower than those of its competitors, which might dissuade potential customers.

A fairer comparison would be the last generation of Airbus and Boeing narrowbodies, the A320ceo and Boeing 737-800 models. Here is a short breakdown between the three aircraft:

 C919 (Extended Range)A320737-800
Passengers192 (Max) / 158 (2-class)180 (1-class) / 140-170 (2-class)184 (Max) / 160 (1-class)
Length38.9 m (127 ft 7 in)37.57 m (123 ft 3 in)39.50 m (129 ft 7 in)
Wingspan35.8 m (117 ft 6 in)35.8 m (117 ft 5 in)35.,79 m (117 ft 5 in)
Height11.95 m (39 ft 2 in )11.76 m (38 ft 7 in)12.57 m (41 ft 3 in)
Empty Weight92,815 lb (42,100 kg)93,900 lb (42.600 kg)91,300 lb (41.413 kg)
Range3,000 NM (5,556 km)3,300 NM (6,112 km)3,112 NM (5,765 km)

The C919 performance shortfall is a direct result of its subsequent delays, resulting in an aircraft that is 10-15 years behind the current generation of aircraft. This gap only continues to increase as its competitors upgrade their platforms.

For example, Airbus has been working on upgrading the wings of the A320neo with a project called ‘The Wings of Tomorrow.’ The project will equip the A320neo with an upgraded all-composite wing, which is longer, more efficient, and features folding wingtips. The change will significantly increase the A320neo’s range and efficiency. In contrast, COMAC doesn’t have any programs slated to upgrade the C919 in the near future.

COMAC C919 Incidents and Accidents

The C919 has not had any accidents or incidents during its testing or operational flight time.

Final Thoughts

The entrance of the COMAC C919 into the market is something to be excited about. Though the aircraft leaves much to be desired in terms of technology, it can potentially disrupt the duopoly established by Airbus and Boeing.

We can expect China’s aviation industry to follow the same trajectory as its automobile industry. The change will take time but will be definitive since China’s industrial might is at COMAC’s disposal.

The added competition will push Airbus and Boeing to innovate further and push the boundaries of what commercial airliners have to offer customers.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

Question: Is the COMAC C919 independent of foreign manufacturers?

Answer: While many of its components are developed in-house, an equal amount depends on foreign manufacturers. The situation puts the production of the C919 at risk, especially if trade restrictions are imposed.

Question: What are the engine options for the C919?

Answer: CFM International’s LEAP-1C turbofan is the only power plant available for the C919. However, AVIC is currently testing its homegrown powerplant, the ACAE CJ-1000A. The engine is slated for a 2030 introduction.

Question: Why is the C919 not considered a competitor to the A320neo and B737 MAX 8?

Answer: The C919’s performance is more comparable to the A320ceo and B737-800. A key performance metric it is lagging in is range. The A320neo and B787 MAX 8 can fly 300 NM and 500 NM more than the Extended Range C919.


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