China begins work on new C939 widebody jet

China’s state-owned aircraft manufacturer, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), has embarked on an ambitious endeavor to develop a new widebody jet, codenamed the C939, according to an exclusive report from the South China Morning Post.

This move underscores China’s determination to carve out a substantial share in the lucrative global aviation market, currently dominated by Western giants Boeing and Airbus.

While details about the C939 remain scarce, a source familiar with the matter revealed that COMAC has already sketched out preliminary designs for the new aircraft.

However, it could take many years before these early concepts materialize into a testable prototype.

The C939 appears to be a bolder and larger iteration of COMAC’s ongoing widebody project, the C929.

Designed for international routes up to 12,000 km (7,500 miles), the C929 is speculated to be on par with aspects of mainstream competitors like Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, according to a second source cited by the South China Morning Post.

Progress on the C929 is reportedly “in full swing,” despite Russia’s withdrawal from the joint venture due to Western sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine.

The second source dismissed concerns about potential delays, stating that Russia’s departure could be managed and may even prove beneficial.

COMAC’s foray into widebody aircraft development comes on the heels of the successful launch of the C919 narrowbody jet, which has already entered commercial service with China Eastern Airlines and made its international debut at the Singapore Airshow in February.

With over 1,000 orders secured, primarily from Chinese airlines and lessors, the C919 has demonstrated Beijing’s commitment to cultivating homegrown rivals to Western aviation giants.

COMAC is now expanding production facilities with a second assembly line to meet the growing demand for the C919.

China’s ambitions in the aviation industry are driven by the nation’s projected growth as the world’s largest market for aviation services in the coming decades, surpassing the United States by the 2030s or 2040s, according to estimates by Airbus, Boeing, and the International Air Transport Association.

To mitigate potential trade conflicts and ensure self-sufficiency, Beijing is exploring ways to close technological gaps and source most components for the C919 domestically, including landing gear and full engines.

While the road to a successful widebody jet like the C939 may be long and arduous, China’s determination to challenge Western dominance in the aviation industry is evident.

As COMAC continues to make strides with its narrowbody and widebody programs, the global aviation landscape may witness a significant shift in the years to come.

Dirk Andrei Salcedo Avatar

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