SINGAPORE: C919 delays will not divert CFM Leap test schedule

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CFM International is keeping to its test schedule for the Leap-1C engine which will power the Comac C919, even if further delays are announced to the first flight and delivery schedule of the new Chinese airliner.

The company has a tight test programme for its Leap family – also including the -1A for the Airbus A320neo and the -1B for Boeing’s 737 Max family – which cannot be disrupted “for fear of getting off schedule and off track”.

“The C919 engine will run in March and fly on our testbed in May,” says Chaker Chahrour, executive vice-president at CFM. “The way we are scheduling our flying testbed is on a critical path.”

Chahrour is the CFM executive closest to the Comac project and spends most time with his counterparts at the company. He acknowledges how challenging it is for a new player like Comac to bring an entirely new airliner into service.

“They are coming up to speed tremendously fast... and they’re not that far behind schedule,” says Chahrour. “They have had some difficulties with some suppliers and bringing them to the same party at the same time has been difficult. But they’ll be flying with this aircraft sometime in 2015.”

Comac told Flightglobal at the show that it is aiming to start final assembly of its first test C919 aircraft by the end of this year and targeting first flight by the end of 2015.

CFM has been open with its Chinese partner about the challenges around the programme. “We understand their situation and we have to work that programme in a different mindset compared to one with Boeing or Airbus.

“But they are coming up to speed tremendously fast. However, they do need more experienced programme management, and I’ve said that to them,” says Chahrour.

Although the two companies have talked about the possibility of a Chinese assembly line for Leaps, discussions on this are taking place at a slow pace and it looks unlikely in the short to medium term. Any decision to establish such a line would be “totally business case driven”, says Chahrour.