While Comac expects most of some 950 regional jets forecast to go to Chinese airlines over the next 20 years to hold more than 90 seats, the manufacturer has opted not to publicize any plans regarding a larger variant of the 78-seat ARJ21-700 known as the ARJ21-900. The former took to the air for the first time a decade ago and won type certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in December 2014.
Comac’s market forecast, which covers the period from 2018 to 2037, reports that China’s regional jet fleet rose from 36 aircraft in 2008 to 93 in 2012, but then dwindled to 71 last year. By comparison, over the same time, the number of mainline jetliners rose steadily from 1,014 up to 3,067, for an average annual growth of 13 percent.
“In the past 10 years, the number of regional jets was only 3 percent that of the mainline jets,” the document states. It also notes an increase in the average number of seats per flight performed by regional jets, from 75 in 2016 to 79 in 2017, and in average distance flown, from 589 to 602 km (318 to 325 nm). The forecast’s authors are highlighting the “urgent need to vigorously develop regional aviation.”
That call, however, clashes with the slow progress of the ARJ21 program. Comac experienced difficulties obtaining CAAC permission for mass production, which came only in the summer of 2017. Plans call for the manufacturing rate to reach 15 this year, and then double during the next three years. Ultimately, Comac expects it to grow to some 50 airframes annually. So far, however, the company has delivered only eight ARJ21-700s, all to launch customer Chengdu Airlines. Since entry into service in the summer of 2016, the model has transported 160,000 passengers traveling on 14 air routes.
At Airshow China 2018, the manufacturer exhibited three ARJ21-700s, in the colors of Chengdu Airlines, Urumqi Air, and Genghis Khan Airlines. Established in 2015 to serve Inner Mongolia regions, Boeing 737 operator Genghis Khan Airlines placed an order for 25 ARJ21-700s, confirmed three weeks before the 12th air show in Zhuhai. The airline expects deliveries to start early next year. The planned third operator of the type—Urumqi Air—serves the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
During the show, Comac signed two more agreements with leasing companies to promote the type. Under the first one, Avic Leasing will place thirty ARJ21s it ordered from the manufacturer with startup Tianju Airlines. The second agreement involves a purchase contract with Shanghai-based SPDB Financial Leasing; it consists of 15 firm orders and 15 options. According to the manufacturer, the deal increased the order tally to 528 aircraft, a figure that covers all sorts of commitments, including firm orders, options, and other contractual obligations.