China’s COMAC Wants to Build Electric Passenger Aircraft


  • The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Ltd. (CATL), and Shanghai Jiaotong University formed a joint venture called COMAC CATL Aviation Co., Ltd. to develop fixed-wing electric aircraft.
  • The new joint venture will focus on pre-research for an electric aircraft, but it is still at an early stage and far from production.
  • The establishment of this joint venture suggests a potential application scenario for CATL’s solid-state batteries, with a single-cell energy density of up to 500Wh/kg. However, mass production of these batteries has not yet begun.

On July 19th, COMAC, CATL, and Shanghai Jiaotong University jointly established a joint venture named COMAC CATL Aviation Co., Ltd. According to business registration information, COMAC CATL Aviation Co., Ltd. has a registered capital of 600 million yuan ($83 million) in Shanghai’s Lingang Area.

The legal representative of COMAC CATL Aviation Co., Ltd. is Qian Zhongyan. He currently serves as the Chief of the COMAC Beijing Civil Aircraft Technology Research Center and was formerly the Deputy Chief Designer of the COMAC C919.

A Comac C919 taking off with the ATC tower in the background.

Image: COMAC

COMAC plays an important role in achieving the industrialization of China’s civil aviation sector. Currently, COMAC has completed the production and delivery of two Chinese-made aircraft, the ARJ21 regional jet, and the C919 passenger aircraft.

On the other hand, CATL is a global leader in the field of power batteries, holding a large share of China’s power battery installation market, exceeding 50%.

Battery placement in civil aircraft is a long way off

The establishment of the new joint venture company aims at a pre-research project for an electric aircraft to develop a fixed-wing electric aircraft. However, this project is in the initial pre-research stage at the COMAC Beijing Research Center and is far from production.

In April of this year, CATL released a new generation of batteries called “solid-state batteries.” The company also announced that it is involved in the cooperative development of civilian electric aircraft projects. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously stated that electric passenger planes will be possible if the energy density of batteries exceeds 450Wh/kg, giving more power to lighter batteries.

However, currently, the available production batteries do not meet the high demand of electric aircraft. CATL’s latest third-generation CTP technology Kirin battery has an energy density of 255Wh/kg, enabling an easy 1000 km range for electric vehicles. However, it still falls short of the high specific energy requirements for electric aircraft.

COMAC electrical test aircraft

Image: COMAC

As the latest result of CATL’s material and material system innovation, the solid-state battery has a single-cell energy density of up to 500Wh/kg. However, it has not yet entered mass production. The establishment of a joint venture with COMAC could possibly indicate a direct application scenario for CATL’s solid-state batteries.

Reducing carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality are key focuses for the future development of the global civil aviation industry, leading aircraft manufacturers to explore alternative power sources to replace traditional fuels.

Even before this, COMAC had started researching new energy aircraft. In 2019, the company successfully conducted test flights of its new energy demonstrator “Featherling H,” which uses a hybrid power system based primarily on hydrogen fuel and electricity.

COMAC Electrical aircraft

Image: COMAC

Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury revealed that Airbus is investing heavily in the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft project. “We believe that this type of aircraft will have a very strong market demand in time and will also be a good platform for us to further develop decarbonization technologies. Once we achieve breakthroughs in these technologies, we can promote them to other products such as commercial aircraft and helicopters.”

Airbus electrical test aircraft

Photo: Airbus

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