By Fangzhong Guo
COMAC’s C919 Finishes Testing Stages, Nears Certification
According to a social media post by The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China(COMAC) on July 23, the COMAC C919 has completed all flight test tasks and is in the final certification phase.
The completion marks a significant milestone for the program and could mean certification in the coming months. For reference, the country’s first home-grown passenger jet, COMAC ARJ21, received its certification a month after completing flight tests.
While the first ARJ21 delivery happened two years after certification, COMAC anticipates delivering the first C919s merely months following certification. China Eastern Airlines is the launch customer for the type and expects to receive three airplanes in 2022.
Wow. COMAC C919 elephant walk. pic.twitter.com/YWIlu410y4
— ChinaAviationReview (@ChinaAvReview) July 24, 2022
The Chinese manufacturer released a video of its test airplanes performing an elephant walk to celebrate this accomplishment. In the meantime, the first production C919 is performing route simulation tests across the country.
C919 is a narrowbody airplane with 150 seats, directly competing with the Boeing 737 family and Airbus A320 family. While the type currently has 169 firm orders, all are from domestic airlines or lessors. The plane bears the country’s ambition to challenge Boeing and Airbus’s duopoly in this segment.
The airplane’s main structure uses aluminum alloys, similar to the construction of the A320 and 737. In addition, it also uses the CFM-Leap engines as its primary powerplant. Despite the similar designs, the airplane only has a range of 2200 nm to 3300nm, well below that of its competitors. The airplane’s main structure uses aluminum alloys, similar to the construction of the A320 and 737. In addition, it also uses the CFM-Leap engines as its primary powerplant. Despite the similar designs, the airplane only has a range of 2200 nm to 3300nm, well below that of its competitors. However, the specification strikes an outstanding balance between cost and performance since the aircraft primarily targets the domestic market, whose longest route is only 2100nm.
Like any major technological uptake, the C919 is developed with much international collaboration, especially since COMAC started the project at the peak of globalization in the late 2000s. Therefore, it selected many western suppliers for critical components, such as avionics and engines to lower the development cost and reach a global market.
However, the situation has changed, and events like the U.S.-China trade war cast great uncertainty on the plane’s future. For instance, the country’s latest turboprop project, MA700, suffered significant delays, because it lost its engine supplier, Pratt & Whitney. Similarly, both Russian commercial airplane programs ground to a halt and had to redesign for domestic alternatives due to western sanctions. The Chinese government views that as another cautionary tale about its reliance on the west.
In addition to distancing itself from Russia to avoid more sanctions, China is also accelerating the development of domestic alternatives. However, critical replacements, such as the engine are likely still years away from commercial introduction. Not to mention, the engine is only one of the few roadblocks C919 would face should the country and the west’s relationship fall apart.
2008 – The C919 program was launched with a targeted first flight time in 2014.
2015 – The Shanghai-based company unveiled the first airplane at its factory in Shanghai during a roll-out ceremony following several delays.
2017 – C919 made its maiden flight on May 5, with its planned entry into service slipping into 2020.
2018 – The state-owned manufacturer grounded its test fleet for modifications, further pushing the first delivery into 2021.
2022 – The company announced the completion of its flight test campaign on July 23.