China’s first commercial passenger jet will be delivered to customers without a US certification, preventing it from flying in the US and Europe.
The failure to obtain certification by the US Federal Aviation Administration has been described by some analysts as a major setback for the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), which has been developing the ARJ-21 regional jet since 2002.
Without US or European certifications, Comac won’t be able to sell the jet globally and will have to rely mostly on domestic, African, South American and some Asian markets.
The plane, designed to carry up to 90 passengers, was certified by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) last year. Comac has already sold about 350 aircraft to Chinese airlines and leasing firms and the launch customer Chengdu Airlines is expected to start using the plane on domestic flights in early 2016.
The firm has been working with the FAA for five years to get the plane certified in the US, which would boost Comac’s international reputation. However, the negotiations have stalled, allegedly due to various technical and bureaucratic issues.
"While the CAAC wanted to learn from the FAA, they felt the Americans were too rigid and unnecessarily delaying things,” a source close to Comac told Reuters.
“And the longer the delay, the greater the embarrassment to the Chinese,” the source added.
The FAA denied it was stalling the process and said ARJ-21 was never intended for US certification and the work carried out with the Chinese should provide a basis for Comac to build a derivative model compliant with FAA standards.
However, the regulator stressed it could certify the plane after it enters service if it demonstrates compliance with US airworthiness and manufacturing standards.
Comac can still ask the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to certify the ARJ-21 once it has been delivered to increase its commercial appeal.
China has been working on a commercial passenger jet for 40 years. ARJ-21 is considered by analysts to be a learning experience for China on the way towards building the C919 narrow-body twin-engine jet. Similar to the Airbus A320, the medium-haul C919 will be able to carry up to 160 passengers.
Comac plans to complete flight-testing and certify C919 in less than half the time it took with the ARJ-21.
"It has engaged foreign suppliers experienced in global aircraft programmes with Airbus and Boeing much earlier, and they're far more involved in the C919," said a source familiar with the development.