A long flight since Shanghai Y-10, China’s COMAC C919 domestic large passenger plane close to certification

The C919 was developed with the assistance of several tens of thousands of scientific and technological experts from more than two hundred businesses and 36 colleges around the country. For China, the success of this endeavour is undoubtedly crucial.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The state-owned Chinese aircraft manufacturer Commercial Aviation Corporation of China (COMAC) announced on the 24th that the test flight of all six test aircraft of the domestic large passenger aircraft “C919” has been completed successfully. The narrow body medium-haul C919’s airworthiness certificate acquisition process has finally come to the finish line.

The test flight is an important process for newly developed passenger aircraft to obtain type certification. It is one of the important ways to prove that the aircraft design meets airworthiness requirements.

The first C919 had its maiden flight at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in May of this year after being delivered to its first customer, China Eastern Airlines. 

The C919 is a large private jet aircraft with intellectual property rights that China independently developed based on the International Civil Aviation Treaty. The final assembly occurred in November 2015, and the first successful flight took place in May 2017. C919 has a capacity of 158-174 seats, and its flight range is from 4075 to 5555 km.

COMAC C919 Cockpit
COMAC C919 Cockpit. Image COMAC

At present, COMAC has received orders for a total of 815 aircraft from 28 companies. The plane is actively pushed to Chinese carriers by COMAC and the state, although Chinese airlines are not directly obligated to buy from them. The state supported the development of the aircraft with the allocation of $ 72 billion, calculated by the American Center for Strategic and International Studies.

As per current estimates, in the next 20 years, Chinese airlines may need to purchase nearly nine thousand new aircraft. COMAC plane is not expected to bag large international orders, but China is the largest export market for planes on the planet. The Chinese will have to compete with Airbus A320, Boeing 737 MAX and possibly the Russian MS-21 aircraft for international sales. C919 will require FAA and European certifications for international flights to most countries, which might not come at all.

The aluminium body plane is powered by the CFM International LEAP engine and is expected to be replaced by the ACAE CJ-1000A turbofan engine, which is currently in development. 


The Shanghai Aircraft Research Institute created a four-engined narrow-body jet aircraft known as the Shanghai Y-10 or Yun-10 (Yunshuji) in the 1970s. In 1972 China acquired a Boeing 707 fleet after a thaw in relations with the West, but Comrade Zhou Enlai went ahead with the development of the Y-10.

Y-10 had a three seating configuration option for tourist class (149 seats), mixed class (124 seats), and economy class (178 seats). Five people would fit comfortably on the flight deck: the pilot, the co-pilot, the flight engineer, the navigator, and the radio operator. The aircraft had a maximum takeoff weight of 102,000 kg. The plane was powered by spare Pratt & Whitney JT3D-7 turbofan engines from CAAC’s tiny Boeing 707 fleet. The Pratt & Whitney engine was chosen before the Shanghai WS8 turbofan, which was made in China, could receive certification.

A test flight of the Yun-10 was conducted in 1980. However, at the time, it was thought that renting or purchasing civil aircraft was preferable to making them because of the cost. As a result, the Yun-10 project’s development was terminated.

COMAC Shanghai Y-10 or Yun-10 (Yunshuji)
COMAC Shanghai Y-10 or Yun-10 (Yunshuji). Image: Zhangmingda, Wikipedia.

The development of the Chinese passenger aeroplane restarted in May 2014 following the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to COMAC.

The C919 was developed with the assistance of several tens of thousands of scientific and technological experts from more than two hundred businesses and 36 colleges around the country. For China, the success of this endeavour is undoubtedly crucial.

First off, the aviation sector is crucial to the nation’s economic strategy. China’s image and influence in the international community would improve if it could develop high-end passenger aircraft.

Secondly, independent aircraft construction will save money. The purchase of an A380 airliner requires the sale of 800 million shirts. But the harm to the environment in the production of textiles is much greater than in constructing an aircraft. During that time, the estimate was that in the next 20 years, China’s aviation market would need 5,000 50-seat airliners, valued at about 4 trillion yuan. Therefore, destroying the monopoly of foreign corporations will lead to significant budget savings in the aviation industry and the field of high-speed railways.

Thirdly, the development of the civil aircraft industry contributes to the growth of other industries. The construction of a 150-seat aircraft requires 3 to 5 million parts. Tens of thousands of enterprises would be involved in their production. According to Yuan Wenfeng, head of the design department of COMAC Corporation, in the future, thanks to the main assembly base of the passenger airliner, a full-fledged production chain will be established in Shanghai. This will attract a lot of scientific and technical specialists there, contributing to the development of science and technology in the relevant industries.


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