MIAMI — China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation (COMAC) has delivered yesterday the first 90-seat regional jet, the ARJ21 to its launch customer, Chengdu Airlines, in a flight from Comac’s Shanghai factory to Chengdu Shuangliu Airport.
After the two hour and 48 minute flight, the aircraft was welcomed by a traditional water cannon salute amid a nationalistic event in which the stages of designing, construction, testing and delivery of the aircraft were highlighted.
Chengdu Airlines, a budget carrier in which COMAC has a 48 per cent stake, now faces the task of its maker’s claims, and proving to the world that China has arrived as a plane maker. The country is keen to develop a successful commercial airliner to rival Boeing and Airbus, but so far, its commercial programs have been plagued with delays, partly attributed to the inexperience and shortage of its local aerospace design and engineering sourced, as well as a lack of a sound aerospace industry from which could base to drive its projects.
The ARJ21 is China’s first locally-built regional jet, designed to compete against Embraer and Bombardier, and will serve as a test case for the C919, COMAC’s answer to Boeing and Airbus in the 150-seat category, and which rolled off the assembly line early this month.
Chengdu Airlines will receive four more ARJs next year –the first of 30 aircraft ordered. Nevertheless, the airline has slowed down its plans to introduce the type in its fleet, as the licenses are type-specific and currently, just 10 pilots are licensed to fly the aircraft in China. The carrier expects to deploy the aircraft in three months approximately, on its main routes between Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen first, before being deployed in southwest China.
COMAC has still to obtain the ARJ21 type certification from the FAA and EASA, required to market the airliner in Western markets. Nevertheless, the manufacturer has received to date over 340 orders from customers in China, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Republic of the Congo.