State-backed Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) aspires to disrupt the duopoly of Airbus and Boeing with its C919 model.

However, Sash Tusa, an analyst at Agency Partners, told the Financial Times, “To take a C919 and turn it into a Chinese-only aircraft would require redesign, testing of every single certificate, most important of which is the engines.” So “I’ll see you in the late 2030s.”

The C919 is a massive, narrow-body aircraft that can hold 168 to 190 passengers. It is priced at $99 million, less expensive than the Airbus A320 NEO at $110 million and the Boeing 737 MAX 8 at $120 million. 

Still, industry insiders told the Times that the C919 has lower fuel efficiency than Boeing and Airbus jets. That would hinder COMAC, originating from the Chinese military, from gaining the same status as the two Western rivals with the airplane.

Airbus expects the C919 to satisfy some of China’s domestic demand, but COMAC does not have enough infrastructure and resources to compete.

The aircraft manufacturer added that COMAC would need an international sales organization and an established customer service network to succeed in a larger market. The company said it took them 40 years to catch up with U.S. producers.

Furthermore, the production of the C919 is also heavily reliant on intellectual property and aftersales services from western partners. For example, its engine results from a partnership between Safran in France and GE in America.

According to Tusa, Russia is a typical example of industry vulnerability if geopolitical tensions arise. Sanctions have severely damaged the country’s aviation sector by preventing access to western expertise and parts. 

Jim Harris, co-leader of the aerospace and defense practice at Bain & Company, said China would need to walk a fine line between capturing growth opportunities in its market versus enabling a future competitor.

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