Comac, or the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, China’s state-owned aerospace manufacturer, hopes to test as many as 102 C919 model passenger jets in 2018 as it’s ramping up production in anticipation of a 2021 commercial launch of the aircraft. Originally, the launch was scheduled for 2020, but was eventually delayed due to testing problems. Without official certification after extensive testing, even if only from Chinese aviation authorities, Comac C919 deliveries will continue to be held back.
While Comac has reached milestones such as a successful maiden flight and, later, a second-flight at higher altitudes and speed, it still remains far from ready for delivery and being rolled out on routes operated by Chinese airlines.
The delay-prone Comac c919 is another step closer to a commercial launch
According to Comac, 102 aircraft will be delivered to the company’s test department in March this year for rigorous testing to eventually obtain the necessary certification of flight-worthiness from Chinese authorities. However, according to a Wang Yanan, the editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge quoted by Caixin, Comac’s lack of qualified test pilots and test-flight technicians is an obstacle to getting the planes certified
And even though Comac’s impending delivery of over a hundred aircraft may instill some confidence in the aircraft’s future, there are still many more concerns that remain. According to a Reuters report, there was an almost five-month gap between the first two testing sessions, something that is highly unusual and may be a sign that the maiden test flight revealed flaws with the aircraft’s design.
The aircraft may end up both expensive and outdated
As much as the successful rollout of C919 would be a public relations win for China in its quest to become not only a manufacturing hub, but an engineering powerhouse, it is believed that the Comac C919 will be as much as 10-15 years out-of-date when it launches due to many of the components being sourced from foreign firms. In other words, it shouldn’t serve a big threat to the competing Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 when it launches in 2021. At an average price of $68.4 million, it would also be a more expensive option than what the average competing aircraft costs, even without taking fuel efficiency into account.
International prospects for the C919 still look dire
But even with a delayed launch, issues with testing, and a questionable value proposition, orders for the Comac C919 have been piling up, with 785 orders from 27 customers placed so far. Out of these 27 customers, GE Capital Aviation Services is the only non-Chinese firm, with the remaining 26 customers either Chinese aircraft leasing firms or Chinese airlines—all encouraged by the government to place orders.
If everything goes according to plan, Comac’s ambitious testing schedule means that we might just start seeing made-in-China aircraft, at least at Chinese airports, as soon as in 2021.