Chinese President Xi Jinping sits in the cockpit of a model of C919 passenger jet at the Comac design centre in Shanghai

C919 first flights face year-long delay

Test flights for China’s first large commercial aircraft, the C919, are being put back a year to 2015.

The intended dates for certification (which was originally set for 2015) and commercial deliveries (2016) have also been pushed to a year later. The C919 ‘iron bird’ test rig was completed last December.

State-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac) is building the aircraft in Shanghai. A senior Comac official, Xu Lian, attributed the delay to problems arising from Chinese engineers’ lack of experience in such huge projects and to technical obstacles.

Xu declined to give details of the obstacles but commented that the delay was expected as this is China’s first large-aircraft project.

“New materials and cutting-edge production have been used to develop the aircraft and this has increased the complexity of the project,” Xu explained.

The C919 is a single-aisle twin-engine jetliner that will seat up to 168 passengers in a two-class layout. China hopes to compete in the international market for short-to-medium-range aircraft, against such rivals as the Boeing 737NG (Next Generation) and the Airbus A320 and Russia’s Irkut MS-21.

The C919 project was approved by the state council in Beijing in 2007 and launched the following year with investment of US$9.5bn (£5.6bn). With the delays the cost is expected to escalate.

There will be two versions of the aircraft, one with a range of 4,000km (2,200 nautical miles) and the other 5,500km (3,000nmi). It will be powered by the new CFM LEAP-X1C engines. CFM is a 50-50 joint venture between Snecma (Safran Group) and General Electric.

Production is under way of the airframes for the first three C919s that will carry out the test flights leading to certification. Assembly of the first aircraft will start in December.

Comac hopes to sell 2,000 C919s over 20 years, with Chinese airlines being the major customers. To date the company has received 421 orders from 17 Chinese and international carriers. Xu is confident that the C919 will not face the same problems as China’s ARJ21 regional jet, which is eight years late.

The ARJ21 programme was launched in 2002 with planned delivery in 2007, but the aircraft is expected to receive certification only later this year because of problems with the initial design and the airframe maker’s inexperience coupled with the small available pool of competent engineers.

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