China’s COMAC (Commercial Aviation Corporation of China) has reportedly begun designing a new widebodied aircraft that will be pitched to compete with the likes of the Boeing 777 (including the 777X) and the Airbus A350 in the future. The new aircraft, tentatively being referred to as the C939, will potentially become the largest of the Chinese manufacturer’s product range, potentially seating up to around 400 passengers and boasting a range capability of around 7,000nm (13,000km).

According to a report published in the South China Morning Post that cites an unnamed source within COMAC, the Shanghai-based manufacturer has already started working on preliminary design concepts for the new aircraft. However, it is still thought that the first flight of any C939 prototype remains many years away.

The news that COMAC is now actively developing a new long-range widebodied airliner comes as the manufacturer continues to broaden its product offering to potential customers. The existing COMAC product range already includes the ARJ21 (‘Advanced Regional Jet’) which entered service in 2016, and the narrowbody C919, which entered service in 2023.

The C919 single-aisle jet is designed to compete head-to-head with the popular Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737 families of aircraft. Deliveries of the C919 began in May 2023 with the first aircraft going to China Eastern, which now operates five of the type serving three Chinese domestic routes. The aircraft has already secured almost 1,000 firm orders, with another 700 aircraft held on option by a number of carriers. In April 2024, the type received sizeable orders from both Air China and China Southern.

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N509FZ / Wikimedia Commons

Alongside COMAC pressing ahead with the ARJ21 and the C919 and now the C939 programs, its other product, the smaller widebodied C929 (which is being lined up to compete head-on with the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A330) is also making progress, according to the source.

The C929 was originally being developed in collaboration with Russian-based manufacturer United Aircraft, although the partnership collapsed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Given the advanced state of the project by that point, along with its future potential, COMAC decided to take over the project itself rather than let it be scrapped altogether.

The C929 is expected to offer customers a range of 6,480nm (12,000km) and a capacity of around 280 seats. It is understood that the aircraft has yet to secure a launch customer.

UAC's executive confirmed that the company is no longer a joint venture partner on the CR929
testing / Shutterstock

COMAC has been open about its ambitions to compete against Airbus and Boeing in the commercial aircraft market in the future. While the company has a huge potential customer base within China itself, the manufacturer is also marketing its aircraft range to carriers outside of its homeland. Indeed, the C919 prototype appeared at the Singapore Airshow in February 2024 with the aim of stirring up interest from airline customers outside of China.

With potentially four aircraft in its future product range, COMAC will need to focus on the scaling up of production if it is truly to compete with its Western counterparts. The pedestrian pace at which it is producing the C919, for example (with just four entering airline service since May 2023) would seem to indicate that the company faces severe limitations on its production capacity – an issue that will need to be addressed should the C929 and C939 also reach the production stages.

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