UAC and Comac Form Joint Venture for New Widebody

 - November 7, 2016, 11:05 AM
A 10:1 scale model of the proposed C929 widebody sits on display at Air Show China's exhibit hall in Zhuhai. (Photo: Reuben Johnson)

Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) will form a joint company to produce a new model widebody airliner dubbed the C929, a joint Russian-Chinese delegation headed by  Russian Minister of Trade and Industry Denis Manturov announced on the second day of the November 1 to 6 China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai.

The delegation also unveiled a scale model of the C929 design concept featuring both the UAC and Comac logos painted on the forward fuselage. Both Russian and Chinese representatives present also made brief statements from the center of Comac’s Olympic-size stand in the middle of the main airshow exhibition hall, most of which background noise from the afternoon flight displays taking place at the aerodrome rendered inaudible.

The exhibition, more commonly know as Airshow China, featured a large number of new programs this year. However, almost all the programs from Chinese industry remain obscured by a lack of details about their actual status or whether they even remain active, making the C929 one of the few Chinese programs of record and with a concrete set of timelines.

Russian aerospace officials in Zhuhai called the announcement “a necessary first step towards formalizing the status of the project.”  

“The work on the design has already been under way to design this new airplane, it continues up to today and the different entities understand their responsibilities,” one UAC official told AIN.  “What will now happen is that a joint company to run the project will officially be registered, with Comac and the Russian side each assuming partial ownership.”

Schedules call for the 280-seat widebody to enter service in 2027, some two years later than the partners had planned when they began publicizing loose details early last year.

Russian commentators familiar with the two nations’ industries said that the program will support efforts to revive Russia’s flagging commercial aerospace sector. At the same time, Comac will receive the benefit of a large body of Russian experience in airliner design and materials development, specifically those needed for large capacity loads but within maximum empty weight requirements.

“The Chinese have, of course, unlimited resources to throw at this program and have been expending them at a considerable rate,” said a representative from one of the component companies that comprise UAC. “Those who make comparisons between their push to create an airliner industry in this country and the 1960’s U.S.-USSR race to the moon are not exaggerating. The problem with the Chinese is that they do not understand that just shoving more inputs into a process does not automatically create either more or better outputs.”

The C929 announcement comes amid questions about when Comac’s other major program, the C919 narrowbody, will conduct its first flight. Previous plans called for the airplane to fly by the end of this year, but officials have now pushed back that projected date to some time in 2017.