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November 13, 2012 7:13 am
Comac, China’s would-be rival to Airbus and Boeing, has announced 50 new jet orders but also admitted it is still struggling to get its aircraft off the ground.
The state-owned aircraft manufacturer on Tuesday said two Chinese airlines had ordered 20 C919 passenger jets each, while a unit of General Electric, its only foreign customer so far, had ordered another 10.
But before the C919 can fly, Comac has pledged to put a smaller regional jet into commercial service, and a Comac official said it could be another two years before that long-delayed aircraft, called the ARJ21, is deemed ready.
With China expected to be the world’s biggest market for new aircraft by a large margin over the next two decades, Beijing has declared it a strategic priority to develop an indigenous aircraft manufacturer so that the country can lessen its reliance on Airbus and Boeing.
Comac has been trying to develop the ARJ21, a small aircraft that would compete against Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier. Initially scheduled for delivery to customers by 2007, it has been beset by problems. The deadline was revised to 2011 and then missed again.
“Our plan is to take another one or two years to obtain all the airworthiness certifications,” Luo Ronghuai, Comac’s vice-general manager, told local media at Airshow China, a twice-yearly event in Zhuhai, southern China.
Comac said in a separate statement that it had started assembling the first ARJ21 for delivery to customers and that it was now in the process of installing aviation systems on the aircraft. It also staged a test flight for spectators at the air show.
The ARJ21 is meant to be a stepping stone for Comac to a bigger prize, the C919, a narrow-body jet that will line up against the Airbus A320 and Boeing’s 737, the workhorses of the aviation industry.
Comac said that Joy Air and Hebei Aviation Group, two small Chinese airlines, had committed to buying 20 C919s each and that GE Capital Aviation Services had asked for 10, bringing its total order to 20. GECAS is co-producing the engines for the C919.
It also said that Ryanair and British Airways have expressed interest in buying C919s, though the carriers have yet to place formal orders. The C919 has received 380 orders in all, according to Comac.
The plan is for the C919 to begin test flights in 2014, with delivery to customers by 2016. Analysts have warned that the delays to the ARJ21 could push back that timeline.
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