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C919 final assembly 'much smoother' than ARJ21's

Progress with the final assembly of the C919 narrowbody is much smoother compared with the journey of the ARJ21 regional jet, says Comac's chief engineer Jiang Liping.

Jiang, who was involved in the ARJ21 and now focuses on the C919 programme, attributes this to more active process control by Comac, as well as the improved specifications the manufacturer has given out to suppliers.

While the final assembly of the ARJ21 airframe took about six months, Comac spent only about 3.5 months to put the C919 airframe together. The complex wing-to-body join of the narrowbody meanwhile took only 25 days, Jiang tells Flightglobal in an interview in Shanghai.

“This is because we had better process control and took more measurements once parts are delivered, to make sure the parts are to standard,” she adds.

When Flightglobal visited Comac's final assembly centre in Shanghai last week, the assembly of the C919 airframe is largely complete with installations of harnesses, cables and pipes already started.

Jiang admits that even she was surprised by how smooth the fusing of the different fuselage sections went, adding that the panels aligned without the need for additional work due to improved specifications that were given to suppliers early.

The airframer, however, had to reinforce the composite aft-fuselage since this is the first time Chinese suppliers are working with the material, says Jiang. Comac is also using a dual supplier system to manufacture critical and potentially challenging parts of the C919 airframe, to ensure quality control and to prevent any major delays to the programme.

Jiang says her worries remain with system integration as well as the overall process control of the programme.

“If process control is done well, no big issues will surface,” she adds.

Jiang also revealed that the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has been more involved in the details of the progress of the programme early on, as compared with the ARJ21. This is expected to make the C919's certification much easier than was the case with the ARJ21, which only gained Chinese certification eight years after its first flight.

“The ARJ21 was the first experience for us and also for the CAAC," she says. "Things are different now.”

Comac is working on an internal target to roll out the C919 later this year, and Jiang says under the best circumstances, pre-flight preparations could be completed four months thereafter. This means that the C919 could make its first flight around April or May of 2016.

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