A Look At China’s Airbus A220 Equivalent: The COMAC ARJ21

African World Airlines, the carrier of Ghana, might be about to order the oriental version of the Airbus A220, the Chinese-built COMAC ARJ21. This is big news, as the aircraft has seen limited deployment outside the East, and its operation in Africa could herald a golden age for COMAC.

A COMAC ARJ21-700 in flight. Source: Wikipedia

What is the COMAC ARJ21?

You can forgive yourself if you have never heard of the ARJ21 or COMAC, also known as the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China. This is the firm that is sponsored by the Chinese government to create or jumpstart their own aviation industry.

Whilst China has been totally open about its hunger for Western aircraft, they have made it clear that the future of aircraft manufacturing belongs to them. At least, it will once they figure out how to make planes that rival Airbus and Boeing.

The ARJ21 is a small jet aircraft that looks very similar to the old MD-80 (which was licensed to be built in China). But COMAC claims that it is an original design, part of which was created by supercomputers in China.

It was originally designed to be built by 2005 and flying for Chinese airlines only 18 months later. Thus far, COMAC has only built 11 aircraft, all of which are currently flying for just two airlines. Its production in China is heavily reliant on foreign components, such as GE engines, Rockwell Collins (the same guys building the new British Airways Club World business class) avionics and wings designed by Antonov State Company in Ukraine.

Aircraft specs

There are currently three variants of the ARJ21:

  • ARJ21-700 / -900: Passenger aircraft. So far only the -700 version has been built and flying.
  • ARJ21F: Freight version of the aircraft.
  • ARJ21B: Private jet version of the aircraft, planned to carry up to 20 passengers.

Here are some statistics about the two passenger variants of the aircraft.

ARJ21-700 ARJ21-900
Cockpit crew Two
Seating capacity 90 (1-class) 105 (1-class)
78 (2-class) 98 (2-class)
Seat pitch 31 in (1-class), 36 & 32 in (2-class)
Length 33.46 m (109 ft 9 in) 36.35 m (119 ft 3 in)
Wingspan 27.28 m (89 ft 6 in)
Wing area 79.86 m2 (859.6 sq ft)
Wing sweepback 25 degrees
Height 8.44 m (27 ft 8 in)
Cabin width 3.14 m (10 ft 4 in)
Cabin height 2.03 m (6 ft 8 in)
Aisle width 48.3 cm (19.0 in)
Seat width 45.5 cm (17.9 in)
Cargo capacity 20.14 m3 (711 cu ft) Unknown
Take off run at Maximum takeoff weight 1,700 m (5,600 ft) STD 1,750 m (5,740 ft) STD
1,900 m (6,200 ft) ER 1,950 m (6,400 ft) ER
Service ceiling 11,900 m (39,000 ft)
Max. operating speed Mach 0.82 (870 km/h, 470 kn, 541 mph)
Normal cruise speed Mach 0.78 (828 km/h, 447 kn, 514 mph)
Range fully loaded 1,200 NM (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) STD 1,200 NM (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) STD
2,000 NM (3,700 km; 2,300 mi) ER 1,800 NM (3,300 km; 2,100 mi) ER
Maximum fuel load 10,386 kg (22,897 lb)
Powerplants (2x) General Electric CF34-10A
Engine thrust 75.87 kN (17,057 lbf) 82 kN (18,500 lbf)

Currently, the plane is in use with two airlines in China: Chengdu Airlines and Genghis Khan Airlines (yes this is a real airline). Apart from that, there are currently 200 orders (which judging by their production of 1 aircraft a year, will be completed by 2200), 20 of which are from GE themselves.

As you can see, COMAC really needs a big win right now to prove that this aircraft is a contender on the world stage. Preferably an airline outside of China, perhaps in a country that China has a lot of influence over?

The ARJ21-700 is in use with two airlines around the world, with 11 units currently built. Source: Wikipedia

What are the details of the deal?

African World Airways, a Ghanaian carrier, is rumored to be on the verge of purchasing two ARJ21-700s. These aircraft would boost their current fleet of eight E145s flying across the region. AWA is actually a joint venture between Ghana and, you guessed it, the China-Ghana development fund.

COMAC is understood to be sending some representatives later this month to Ghana to meet with airline officials and potentially pitch them their aircraft.

“We are speaking with COMAC and hope to get more information on the exciting new product they are proposing to sell to us, but there are no plans to order any aircraft at this time,” – representative at African World Airways to Bloomberg.

Whilst this story might seem like small town news (after all, we are used to multi-billion dollar orders for the latest cutting edge aircraft) the fact is if China can show that there is a market for this aircraft outside of China, then perhaps other nations outside their sphere of influence will be tempted.

What do you think? Would you fly in an ARJ21-700? Let us know in the comments.