China pushes towards delayed ARJ-21 certification

 - January 31, 2011, 8:30 AM

China’s new ARJ21-700 regional jet appears on track to meet a revised timeline to achieve certification and first deliveries by year-end, according to the latest reports from its manufacturer. If the state-controlled airframer achieves that goal, it will happen barely a year after the 90-seater made its public debut at last November’s Airshow China in Zhuhai. But it would also happen about 12 months later than originally anticipated by the partners behind the program, Aviation Industries of China (Avic) and the current lead developer, Commercial Aircraft Company of China (Comac).

Launched in 2002 by Avic Commercial Aircraft (ACAC) before it became part of Comac in 2009, the airplane was originally intended to complete flight-testing by the end of last year, but its developers have now pushed back that target to April, followed by supplemental ground tests in June. Comac has now scheduled certification and initial deliveries for the last couple of months of this year, according to Zhao Yuerang, director general of the company’s airworthiness management department.

Launch customer Chengdu Airlines placed an order for 30 ARJ21s right after Comac bought a large stake in the carrier. Shandong Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines subsidiary Kunpeng Airlines have also placed orders for the type.

Comac hopes that once the ARJ21 receives Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) certification, it will earn approval from the FAA, making it the first Chinese commercial aircraft to receive an FAA ticket. The FAA is working on a shadow certification process alongside Comac, aimed at ensuring that the CAAC approval meets FAA standards. Two General Electric CF34-10A engines power the aircraft.

To date, sales for the most part have gone to Chinese airlines for this first variant of the ARJ series, although U.S. leasing group GE Commercial Aviation Services and the government of Laos have also placed orders. Confirmed overseas and domestic orders and letters of intent have amounted to 240 aircraft. With an official price tag of between $27 million and $29 million, the ARJ21 holds an acquisition cost advantage over its peers in the international market.

In addition to GE, several Western suppliers are involved in the program. Based on the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 system, the avionics suite features 10-inch by 8-inch high-resolution LCDs, while Honeywell supplies the fly-by-wire flight control system. The development of the ARJ series will progress next to the stretched version (90 to 100 seats), standard-range and extended-range versions, including all passenger, freight and business jet variants.

Shareholders of the Shanghai-based Avic/Comac consortium of six companies and research institutes include the Chinese central government, the municipal government of Shanghai, and the Aviation Industries of China firms (Avic I and Avic II). The Chinese government established the group with the specific intention of breaking the dependency on Boeing and Airbus aircraft of the country’s air transport sector. The ARJ21 will be the partners’ first aircraft to go to market, followed by the larger single-aisle C919, which is slated to enter service in 2016.