Key Points:

  • Comac is progressing with detailed design work on the C929 widebody aircraft, emphasizing advancements in alternative energy technology for aviation.

  • Recent reports indicate a potential dissolution of the Comac-UAC joint venture initially established to develop the CR929 widebody jet.

  • Despite challenges, Comac is pushing forward with its C919 narrowbody production and aims for technological self-reliance in its aerospace manufacturing.

Comac Continues with C929 Development Amidst Speculation of Joint Venture Troubles

BEIJING — The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) is proceeding with the design phase of its new C929 widebody passenger jet, as recent reports suggest complications in its joint venture with Russia. Qi Xuefeng, Comac's vice-president, announced at a Beijing aviation conference organized by the China Air Transport Association (CATA) that the C929 had entered the detailed design stage, with a focus on developing more economical and environmentally friendly aircraft technologies.

The Uncertain Fate of the Sino-Russian Aerospace Collaboration

While Qi did not reference Russian involvement in his remarks, media speculation has arisen regarding the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) stepping back from the partnership, initially forged in 2017 to create the CR929 widebody passenger jet. The joint venture has faced numerous delays and the impact of heavy sanctions on Russia's aerospace sector following the invasion of Ukraine. Neither Comac nor UAC has issued official statements clarifying the current state or future of their collaboration.

Comac's Commitment to Technological Independence and Production Challenges

In a move signaling China's pursuit of technological autonomy, Comac recently announced the formation of a laboratory dedicated to the C929's development. The initiative aligns with China's strategic goal of accelerating the C929 project and bolstering its independent innovation in large aircraft manufacturing. Additionally, Comac aims to quicken the development and output of its C919 series, a narrowbody jet rivaling the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, as per a CATA statement.

David Yu, an expert in aviation financing, remarked on the inherent difficulties of the joint venture and the increased resources Comac will require independently. The state-owned Comac began commercial flights of the C919 with China Eastern Airlines in May after over a decade of development and aspires to reach an annual production rate of 150 aircraft within five years.

Supply chain issues, further exacerbated by the pandemic and geopolitical conflicts, have been a significant obstacle for industry leaders Boeing and Airbus, and Comac faces a similar challenge. Industry analyst Lin Zhijie suggests that Comac's journey to ramp up production could take several years.

Meanwhile, Liu Daxiang from the Aviation Industry Corporation of China emphasized the strategic importance of large commercial aircraft to the nation's economic and defense capabilities. Minister of Industry and Information Technology Jin Zhuanglong also underscored the role of high-tech manufacturing in enhancing China's industrial framework, recognizing the current phase as a critical period for growth and transformation in the sector.