China’s Comac is preparing to fly an additional three C919 prototypes this year in an effort to advance its standing among the world's established aerospace companies. The three new C919 narrowbodies, coded 104, 105, and 106, have reached various stages of development at the company’s Shanghai assembly facility in preparation of their upcoming inaugural test flights, according to a source working closely with Comac who spoke with AIN on condition of anonymity.
Aircraft 104 is nearing the final assembly stage, 105 has reached its mid-production cycle while Comac continues to source major components for aircraft 106, he told AIN. Given that a host of Chinese and Western suppliers contribute various components to the project, the amount of time to source the parts presents its own set of challenges. Comac has established an entire department dedicated to ensuring the right parts arrive at the right time in the build process.
Once complete, the three jets will join the flight test program, bringing the total number of C919s to six. The first prototype, 101, completed its long-delayed first flight in May 2017 followed by a long-distance test flight six months later. Aircraft 102 conducted a successful two-hour first flight in December of that year and both prototypes flew again in June 2018 as part of a control-stability test and systems check. Prototype 103 completed its inaugural flight last December.
Comac has scheduled the six prototypes to collectively pass through some 729 test items and 4,200 hours of flight before the C919 obtains certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). China’s first indigenous airliner, the ARJ21, logged 5,000 hours before receiving CAAC certification.
Eleven years since the C919’s launch, China’s efforts to develop a second indigenous airliner remain slow-going. While the manufacturer has made some headway, evident in its test flights, teams working on the project have encountered repeated setbacks varying from disruptions in design changes and a shortage of local expertise to misinterpretations of regulatory requirements. As a result, the state-controlled airframer will need virtually no interruptions to its schedule timelines to meet its first delivery date target of 2021.