In the Works: AVIC I

 - September 13, 2006, 4:41 AM

ARJ21–China’s AVIC I Commercial Aircraft (ACAC) continues its deliberate march toward a 2009 introduction of the 90-seat ARJ21-700,
the first in a two-model line of jets to include the 105-seat ARJ21-900. Delayed by at least a year after ACAC decided to stretch the -700’s airframe by three feet and use more composite materials to reduce weight, assembly of the first airframe now appears likely to start next March. Although work on major components such as the cockpit, fuselage and wings began early this year, test schedules show first flight won’t occur until March 2008. If all goes according to plan, launch customer Shandong Airlines will take the first production example in September 2009.

The ARJ21 program partners–a consortium led by government-controlled ACAC and in which 15 separate shareholders hold an interest–have now signed no fewer than 19 U.S. and European aerospace components suppliers to contribute to the effort. Seven separate ACAC-controlled factories participate in production, including program leader and final assembler Shanghai Aircraft, fuselage and wing supplier Xian Aircraft Industries, nose section builder Chengdu Aircraft and engine pylon/vertical stabilizer contractor Shenyang Aircraft.

Still holding firm orders for 35 airplanes, ACAC hasn’t landed a new ARJ21 customer since September 2003, when it announced orders for 10 from Shandong Airlines, five from Shanghai Airlines and 20 from Shenzhen Finance Leasing. Using a pair of GE CF34-10A turbofans and Rockwell Collins Pro Line avionics for the application, ACAC aims to certify the airplane to U.S. standards and hopes to gain FAA certification at the same time it wins Chinese approval.