Taking its cue from the MD-82 and subsequent McDonnell Douglas programs launched for assembly in China in the 1980s, the ARJ21 regional jet, built by the Commercial Aviation Corporation of China (Comac) since the OEM’s inception in 2009, has achieved a measure of success in the domestic market, with 66 units of the type delivered by the end of 2021, according to Ascend by Cirium data.
Reports in Chinese newspaper Global Times indicated in December that China-controlled Indonesian regional airline TransNusa would serve as the international launch customer of the 90-seat aircraft in 2022. The publication said China Aircraft Leasing Group Holdings, which owned 36 percent of Transnusa, had agreed to purchase 60 of the aircraft for delivery through 2026.
Launched in 2002 by a consortium led by defense contractor Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), the program saw the prototype take its first flight in 2008, with the first delivery to Chengdu Airlines in 2015. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued the ARJ21 production certificate in 2017.
In its 2020 to 2039 market outlook, Comac said that by the end of 2019, China (excluding Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan) operated a total of 59 regional jets. With the gradual withdrawal of the Embraer ERJ series and the entry of ARJ21-700, it said China’s regional fleet had gradually reached the stage where the ARJ21-700 and Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft stood as the main turbofan types.
According to Comac, China’s One Two Three Airlines, a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines, operated three ARJ21s at the end of 2020 and expected to receive six in 2021 and eight in 2022. “By 2025, the size of the aircraft fleet will reach 35,” it said.
China Southern Airlines’ first ARJ21 officially entered commercial service on July 15, 2020. Air China took its fourth ARJ21 in March 2021, on lease from CNAC Beijing Financial Leasing Company.
“With the signing of purchase contracts for ARJ21-700 aircraft by China’s three major airlines and the delivery of the first one, as well as the improvement of the production capacity of Comac regional aircraft, the proportion of ARJ21-700 aircraft in China’s regional fleet continues to increase,” Comac said.
Cirium fleets data indicates that Comac has delivered 66 ARJ21s to eight operators by the end of 2021, Rob Morris, global head of consultancy Ascend by Cirium, told AIN.
“There were marginally fewer deliveries recorded last year: 21 compared to 23 in 2020,” he said. “The same data records a firm order backlog of 361 aircraft (from 13 airline and six operating lessor customers) for the ARJ21. Deliveries are expected to increase significantly in 2022 and to most importantly include the first export deliveries to TransNusa in Indonesia.”
Turning to Comac’s full-narrowbody type, the C919, designed to compete with the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737, Morris cited a backlog of 303 aircraft from five airlines and nine operating lessor customers.
“We do expect the first C919 to be delivered to China Eastern Airlines at some point in 2022, albeit further delayed from that expectation in late 2021 as announced by Comac earlier last year," he said. "Reports surfaced late last year that Comac had to date completed less than 50 flights amongst the 200-plus which were planned and required for certification.”
In light of the apparently significant amount of work remaining, he cited a risk of further delay, beyond 2022, if Comac does not significantly improve on current progress.
“It is not clear if stricter FAA/EASA regulation is the cause of this delay, but given the significant delays already seen in the ARJ program, it seems more likely that Comac’s relative lack of experience is a causal factor," he noted. "There have also been reports more recently that the aircraft design is being revised as a consequence of some testing, and this could also add further deferral of the program.”