C919 moves into 'critical stage' of engineering development: Comac

Beijing
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With the recent announcement that its C919 narrowbody’s first flight has been pushed back by a year to 2015, Comac however has yet to say when it will deliver the first aircraft for commercial use.

Speaking to reporters at the Aviation Expo in Beijing, vice-president Luo Ronghuai disclosed that the final assembly of the first test aircraft will take place in 2015, with first flight to follow shortly after. He was, however, reluctant to pinpoint when exactly Comac plans to deliver the first C919 to launch customer ICBC Leasing, and would only say that most manufacturers are able to do so two years after first flight.

Besides the C919, Comac is also working towards certification of its ARJ21 regional jet, an aircraft that took first flight in 2008, but is still undergoing flight test and certification.

The Chinese airframer says the C919 has now entered into “the most critical stage of engineering development” as detailed design continues. Aircraft structural data has also been distributed and parts and components manufacturing are now “in full swing” across at least five different Chinese cities.

“Seventeen airborne systems have passed critical design reviews and 90% of the airworthiness certification plans have been prepared,” it adds.

Luo concedes that Comac has little experience working with various domestic and foreign suppliers. Thus, it will be challenging to ensure that the progress made by suppliers is kept on track and that all systems are integrated smoothly. Comac is working extensively with western suppliers on both the C919 and ARJ21.

He cites an example with the ARJ21, where a software delay caused the regional jet’s first flight to be pushed back from March to November 2008.

“It is challenging working with so many suppliers. For the first flight to happen, everything must be on schedule, all systems in place to make sure they match the design details and certification requirements. This is a very complicated task and will reflect the capability and standard of the manufacturer who puts it all together,” says Luo, adding jets using various new technologies make the co-ordination of systems integration even more challenging.

Comac adds that it is also working to establish closer relationships with its suppliers so that development issues could be tackled early, to ensure that the programme moves along as scheduled.

It has started the installation of parts on its C919 iron bird ground rig, and is targeting to have the aircraft’s landing gear installed by late September. In the first half of the year, several components necessary for iron bird tests have already been delivered.

The airframer has, so far, received 380 commitments for its C919, mostly from Chinese airlines and leasing companies. Luo says he expects more orders to come within the next year.

“There is a lot of attention on this programme, which puts much pressure on us,” he adds.

At the Aviation Expo, Comac had a model of its C919 on display, together with four models of the ARJ21 in different configurations.