Chinese LCC Takes Its First ARJ21, MA700 Set for Assembly

 - January 20, 2020, 2:48 PM
A Comac ARJ21 (left) and a C919 prepare for test missions at one of the narrowbody’s four flight test facilities, Nanchang Yaohu.

Chinese low-cost carrier Jiangxi Air took delivery of its first Comac ARJ21-700 on Sunday, becoming the third operator of the type after Chengdu Airlines and Genghis Khan Airlines. Based at Nanchang Changbei International Airport in Jiangxi province, the carrier plans to introduce an additional four ARJ21s for operation out of its base and two additional cities—Ganzhou and Jinggangshan. A joint venture between Xiamen Airlines and state-owned Jiangxi Aviation Investment, Jiangxi Air flies nine Boeing 737-800s. The latest order bumps Comac’s deliveries to 23 ARJ21 jets.

Meanwhile, Jiangxi’s second-largest airport, Nanchang Yaohu, will soon benefit from a new $300 million ARJ21 test flight and delivery center. According to Comac officials, the facility will offer maintenance, interior installation, and painting, as well as flight testing and delivery by year-end.

Nanchang Yaohu serves as one of four test flight facilities for Comac’s C919 narrowbody program. According to a company statement, two prototypes are undergoing intensive flight, static, and other ground verifications tests while two ARJ21s await design optimization flight testing. Comac bases its remaining four prototypes at Shaanxi’s Xi’an, Shandong’s Dongying, and Shanghai’s Pudong.

To accelerate the design and production of its two indigenous airliner programs, Chinese officials recently approved 11 draft proposals, some of which include freeing funds for aircraft technology development. Speaking candidly at a January 10 meeting, Comac chairman and Communist party secretary He Dongfeng stressed the importance of “tackling technological problems,” and “improving self-reliance” while eliminating “shortages of resources [and] funds.” Plans also call for strengthening technical competencies and internal “democratic” processes over 2020.

In a separate development, AVIC engineers have made steady progress in developing the MA700—the third member of its “Modern Ark” regional turboprop, whose predecessors it designated the MA60 and MA600. According to a company statement released January 17, the first MA700 flight test prototype, now ready for final assembly, will take its maiden flight sometime this year.  While Avic has not confirmed whether it will pursue endorsement from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and/or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the state-owned manufacturer has yet to rule out the possibility.

Designed to fly as far as 1,458 nm and at a cruise speed of around 343 knots, the 86-seat MA700 features Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics and air data systems and two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150C engines driving six-blade Dowty R504 propellers. Chinese and foreign suppliers contribute to the program, including Honeywell, Safran, Parker Aerospace, and Meggitt.