China Approves First Domestically Produced Airframe

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | January 5, 2015
Send Feedback

[Avionics Today 01-05-2015] China’s first domestically produced regional airliner, ARJ21-700, has achieved certification from the country’s aviation authority after more than a decade of development. The 90-seat medium range regional jet was designed to compete with aircraft from manufacturers such as Embraer and Bombardier. However, it is highly unlikely that the ARJ21 will be competitive with either Bombardier’s CRJ family of regional jets or Embraer’s E-jet series, according to Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group. 
The ARJ21. Photo: COMAC.
“It’s unbelievably outdated,” Aboulafia said during an interview with Avionics Magazine. “It has components that were quite fresh and modern 30 years ago. Not only is it outdated today, but it was outdated when it was designed originally.”
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued the type certificate under Chapter 25 of the Chinese civil aviation regulations on Dec. 30, 11 years after certification work on the ARJ21 first began in 2003. According to the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC), the ARJ21 features cockpit avionics from several western suppliers, including Eaton Aerospace’s cockpit panel assemblies, Rockwell Collins avionics and AHS-3000 attitude heading reference system as well as a flight deck control suite from Sagem. Honeywell supplies the primary flight controls. 
But the ARJ21’s most outdated aspect is its engines, Aboulafia said. The twin rear-mounted General Electric CF34-10A turbofans on the newly certified jets are the same engines being phased out by the regional jet market’s biggest player, Embraer, on its revamped E-Jet E2 family that is scheduled for first deliveries in 2018. 
“The engines and avionics are pretty much identical to any other regional jet designed 15 years ago,” said Aboulafia. 
China’s government-owned airframe manufacturing entity, Aviation Industries of China (AVIC) — a major COMAC shareholder — first announced plans for the ARJ21 in 2000. But the aircraft faced numerous delays on its way to the recently achieved certification. 
According to a November report on the ARJ21 published by the Teal Group, the aircraft was originally scheduled to enter service in 2007. In 2005, however, design changes forced COMAC to delay that projected date to 2009. In November 2008, the ARJ21 made its first flight and subsequently three additional aircraft were added to the flight testing program. Then, in 2009, the program was postponed further due to  additional design changes, forcing AVIC to push projected service entry back to the third quarter of 2011. But the program suffered another setback that year because it could not achieve airworthiness certification, meaning it was not deemed suitable to carry passengers. 
By September 2013, COMAC projected certification and service entry in 2014. Early in 2014 though, another delay was announced due to a problem with the strength of the aircraft’s landing gear, according to Aboulafia’s report. That problem was corrected and the aircraft finally achieved certification last week after flying for more than six years, accumulating more than 5,000 flight hours and racking up an estimated development cost of $1.2 billion.
Although COMAC has reported commitments for 278 ARJ21s from Chinese carriers and leasing firms, it will not be able to compete with more modern regional jets coming online from Bombardier, Embraer and Mitsubishi’s first regional airliner, the MRJ, scheduled to make its first flight later this year. Furthermore, Aboulafia does not foresee COMAC making a costly investment necessary to achieve certification for the ARJ21 outside of China. 
“It would take a lot of work, a very expensive certification effort to get this aircraft certified in the United States including flight testing and more to get the FAA to be comfortable with approving the design. It would take a great deal of work and it would result in exactly nothing because no carrier in the U.S. is going to buy it,” said Aboulafia. 

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox