COMAC, the Chinese aircraft manufacturer, has captured attention by outshining Airbus and Boeing at the Singapore Airshow.

Table of content

  • Introduction
  • C919: A Competitor to Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320

  • Certification problems
  • Reliance on Western suppliers
  • Summary


At the Singapore Airshow, the Chinese state-owned aircraft maker COMAC stole the spotlight from industry giants Airbus and Boeing. They showcased their self-developed C919 and ARJ21 jets, aiming to get international certifications and orders from other countries. Their booth in the center of the event hall attracted a lot of attention, with an advertisement calling their planes “a reliable new choice.” Many aviation, government, and investment professionals visited their display, showing strong interest in learning more about COMAC, which hasn’t been widely known outside of China until now.

C919: A Competitor to Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320:

The C919, which competes with Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A320neo, recently flew outside of China for the first time. This marked a significant moment for COMAC, especially after securing a major 50-plane order from China’s Tibet Airlines. The timing is interesting, as Boeing and Airbus are facing supply chain issues and crises. Many in the aviation industry see COMAC’s entry positively, bringing more competition. However, some believe COMAC has a long way to go before becoming a major player, and for now, it will mostly operate within China. Despite concerns, some airline executives welcome the added competition. It’s worth noting that COMAC didn’t take media questions during order announcements and didn’t discuss its plans openly at the event.

The CEO of Philippine budget airline Cebu Pacific, Michael Szucs, welcomed COMAC’s presence, stating that COMAC had sent a large delegation to visit their carrier eight months ago. He expressed his preference for a three-horse race rather than a two-horse race in the aviation industry. However, he also acknowledged that COMAC still has a long way to go before becoming a serious competitor.

Certification problems:

The C919 has received over 1,000 orders mainly from Chinese airlines and lessors, as reported by Chinese state media. While there is interest in the model from aviation executives, potential buyers and lessors are waiting for regulatory approval from U.S. and European authorities, as the plane’s design is currently certified only by China.

China’s aviation authority has plans to promote the C919 internationally this year and pursue certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). GallopAir, a new airline based in Brunei with Chinese investors, has ordered 30 COMAC planes, including the first overseas purchases of the C919. They are working with COMAC to obtain the necessary approvals to start flying the ARJ21 jet in Brunei. However, certification for the C919 in Brunei is expected to take at least two to three years, according to GallopAir’s managing director, Cham Chi.

TransNusa, an Indonesian low-cost carrier, already operates two ARJ21 aircraft, which is a regional jet preceding the C919.

Christian Scherer, CEO of Airbus commercial aircraft, welcomed the competition but noted that the C919 resembles existing offerings from Boeing and Airbus and wouldn’t significantly shake up the market.

Boeing also welcomed the competition from COMAC, stating that it’s “good for the industry.”

Reliance on Western suppliers:

One big question mark about the C919 is its dependence on Western suppliers for important parts like engines and avionics systems. This makes it vulnerable to geopolitical tensions, especially with strained relations between Beijing, Washington, and Brussels. These parts also face supply chain issues similar to those affecting Western rivals, which have bigger economies of scale and longer relationships with key suppliers.

COMAC plans to invest billions of yuan over the next few years to expand C919 production capacity. Analysts believe they’re working on domestic alternatives for Western parts, but it could take a long time, even decades.

Rolls-Royce’s civil aerospace chief customer officer, Ewen McDonald, mentioned that while COMAC is advanced in airframe technology, they’re behind in engine technology, which is very challenging. For now, they’ll still need Western engines.

Currently, the C919 engines come from CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Safran, but China’s Aero Engine Corporation is developing a domestic substitute, the CJ-1000A, which hasn’t been certified yet.


The C919 made its debut outside mainland China at the air show, attracting interest from attendees eager to see it up close. However, it’s important to note that the aircraft has not yet been certified by US or European regulators. Additionally, the C919 still heavily depends on Western parts, raising concerns about its vulnerability to geopolitical tensions.


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