Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac) has started building the final assembly line for the homegrown C919 passenger jet near Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. The assembly line is set to be the biggest in China, according to Comac general manager Jin Zhuanglong. It will assemble, test and deliver the new ARJ21 and C919 airliners, as well as including component production and aircraft maintenance facilities.
The first phase of the project is due to be completed in 2012. Comac is aiming for the C919 to make its maiden flight in 2014 before deliveries to buyers begin in 2016. By 2016, the facility is to be able to produce twenty 150-seat C919s and fifty 90-seat ARJ21-series regional jets annually.
“China has entered the design phase of the aircraft, and it’s predictable that there would be many technological difficulties as it is the first indigenous large aircraft,” said Wu Kai, an analyst with United Securities in Shanghai.
Comac has signed cooperation agreements with nine domestic plane makers for the project. The wings will be produced in Xi’an, the nose will be manufactured in Chengdu and the fuselage in Shenyang and Nanchang, said Chen Jin, Comac’s head of marketing and sales. “These manufacturers also supply parts for Airbus and Boeing, so their production capacity should not be doubted,” he said.
Meanwhile, Commercial Aircraft Engine Co. (ACAE), a joint venture of Aviation Industry Corp. of China (Avic), has started building a $472 million research-and-development center in Shanghai, which will focus on engine research for the C919. According to ACAE general manager Zhang Jian, the center will be completed in 2013 and the first homegrown engine is expected to come off the assembly line in 2016. ACAE is to jointly fund the assembly line and test center for the LEAP-X1C engine that CFM is to build for the C919.
Last month, ACAE signed a memorandum of understanding with Germany’s MTU Aero Engine to research and develop China-made engines, but details on specific areas of cooperation have yet to be disclosed.
China’s failure so far to develop its own aircraft engines has undoubtedly stifled the growth of its aerospace sector. The country will find it hard to catch up with Western engine makers, according to Li Gangling, an analyst at Industrial Securities in Shanghai.
“But it’s a must-do for the Chinese aviation industry. As we all know, it takes a lot of time and money to acquire aircraft from Western countries. Yet you cannot fully develop your aviation industry if you cannot master the technique of aircraft engine manufacturing,” Li added.
Comac’s Chen said airlines and aircraft leasing companies, both Chinese and foreign, have shown interest in the C919 and the group claims that it will unveil its initial customers during the first half of this year. “A plane satisfying market needs will surely get orders,” he said. “The C919 is more advanced compared to the current operating aircraft of the same size. It will use between 12 and 15 percent less fuel, and help reduce carbon emissions.”