China’s Comac C919 Airliner Faces Uncertain Delay

 - November 26, 2012, 6:00 PM
China’s Comac is using an engineering flight simulator to develop the cockpit for its new C919 airliner, which now faces an unspecified delay in service entry due to a further one or two year hold-up in certifying its smaller ARJ21 aircraft. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Beyond an admission by China’s Comac that the development timetable for its new C919 narrowbody will be pushed back by a further delay of one or two years in the certification of its ARJ21 regional airliner, precise details on the program is progressing remain hard to pin down. At Airshow China earlier this month, Comac claimed that the C919 is now backed by 380 “orders” but the company gave no public comment as to how far back the planned service-entry in 2016 may now slip due to new delays with the ARJ21.

The full-scale C919 cabin mock-up first shown at the 2010 Airshow China event in Zhuhai was not present this year, but Comac did display an engineering flight simulator that it appears to be using to develop the cockpit for the aircraft with which China aims to take on Airbus and Boeing. Since completing its preliminary design review almost a year ago in December 2011, Comac insists that the program is now making progress through an “engineering development phase.”

Seven Chinese companies have been selected as the C919’s main suppliers, including Xi’an, Chengdu, Shenyang, Jiangxi Hongdu and Harbin. In addition to the contributions of several leading Western aerospace firms–including Honeywell, CFM International and Goodrich–work has been distributed to as many as 100 Chinese companies spread across 12 Chinese provinces. Powered by CFM’s new Leap X-1C engine, the standard version of the C919 is expected to offer range of up to 2,200 nm, with an extended range version able to take this up to 3,000 nm.

Officially, the projected first flight of the C919 is in 2014, ahead of service entry in 2016, but Comac vice general manager Luo Ronghuai admitted to journalists at Airshow China that the latest setbacks with the ARJ21 will cause an unspecified knock-on delay to the larger airliner. It is unclear whether Comac is being any more candid with its Western suppliers and prospective airline clients over the latest delays.