COMAC rises as a compelling alternative to Boeing

COMAC emerges as a viable alternative in the aviation industry, gaining momentum amidst Boeing’s recent setbacks.

China’s Commercial Aircraft Corp (COMAC) is making strides in the aviation industry, presenting itself as a viable alternative, especially in the wake of recent issues with Boeing’s 737 MAX. Traditionally, airlines split their orders between Boeing and Airbus to avoid dependence on a single supplier and to leverage competition between the two major players. However, Boeing’s recent troubles have prompted airlines to reconsider their options, making COMAC an appealing third choice.

While COMAC has already secured over 1,000 orders, primarily from domestic carriers like China Eastern Airlines, foreign operators have historically stuck with Boeing and Airbus due to their established reputation, reliability, and safety records. Developing a new aircraft from scratch involves substantial costs, making it challenging for new entrants to gain traction without a proven product. COMAC, benefiting from government support and guaranteed orders from state-backed airlines, managed to overcome these hurdles.

The C919, COMAC’s counterpart to Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 jets, entered commercial service in May, operating the Shanghai-Chengdu route for China Eastern. Although it has yet to establish a track record comparable to its Western counterparts, the airline has been quietly making progress. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary notes that COMAC’s entry helps meet the demand of Chinese carriers, allowing Western airlines to absorb Boeing and Airbus output while awaiting the delivery of hundreds of aircraft.

Despite initial scepticism due to concerns about the safety of COMAC’s jets and the company’s history of intellectual property issues, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Chinese manufacturer is gaining ground. While major U.S. contractors have historically enjoyed legal protection for their intellectual property, Boeing’s recent missteps have prompted a reevaluation of this stance.

In the short term, COMAC may not match the production capacity of its established rivals, but it is securing smaller orders from lesser-known airlines, using them as a proving ground. Orders from Indonesian carrier TransNusa and Brunei-based GallopAir, along with collaborations to develop versions of the C919 for specific requirements like mountainous airports, indicate a growing acceptance of COMAC as a serious player in the aviation industry. As Western giants grapple with unexpected market changes, COMAC’s endurance and potential transformation of the industry may unfold more rapidly than anticipated.