Comac aims to deliver first ARJ21 by end-2014

Beijing
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Comac is targeting to get its ARJ21 regional jet certified next year, and thereafter, deliver the aircraft to launch customer Chengdu Airlines by the end of 2014.

The Chinese airframer says that the jet’s certification process has been moving forward as planned, and that a series of major tests were completed this year. These include high risk and critical modules such as the minimum unstick speed tests, stall tests and high crosswind flight tests.

At the Aviation Expo in Beijing, the airframer also disclosed that after many challenges, the programme has finally completed tests for the emergency release of the aircraft’s landing gear. This is a segment that has “haunted the project” for the last three years because of the technical problems encountered.

In total, the four ARJ21 flight test aircraft have completed more than 2,000 flights totalling some 4,000 hours, and covered about 70% of the necessary flight tests.

Sources say that there are no “major issues” with the development of the jet and that representatives from the US Federal Aviation Administration, which is conducting a shadow certification process alongside the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s (CAAC) certification process, will fly on the ARJ21 during tests in the coming months. This will be a show of confidence that the aircraft is safe, they add.

At the Aviation Expo, Comac vice-president Luo Ronghuai says upcoming tests the regional jet will undergo include natural icing tests, and also some additional work for high humidity flight tests.

After receiving certification from the CAAC, it could take another two years before the aircraft gets validated by the US FAA.

Progress on the ARJ21, a project which started some 11 years ago, has been slow as engineers encountered problems in the development as well as certification processes. Delivery of the aircraft, initially set for 2007, has been pushed back several times, partly also because the inexperienced airframer is working with the CAAC, which is certifying a commercial jet for the first time and therefore unfamiliar with the process.

The CAAC has since set up an airworthiness certification centre in Shanghai, the country’s first such specialised agency for work on large transport aircraft.

Comac has so far garnered 252 commitments for the ARJ21, mostly from Chinese airlines and leasing companies.

In its 2013-2032 market forecast, Comac says it expects 4,346 new regional aircraft deliveries over the next 20 years, the majority of which will have 70 seats or more, a category which the ARJ21 competes in. During this period, it also expects China’s regional aircraft fleet to increase by over 5% to 726.

At the Aviation Expo, the airframer has four ARJ21 aircraft in four different configurations on display.