China’s COMAC has delivered its first ARJ21 from its new production line in Shanghai, ramping up production on the model to meet local demand. The aircraft will fly for the local carrier Chengdu Airlines.
What is the ARJ21?
As much of the aviation world is focusing on existing airlines during the crisis, the Chinese have quietly resumed production of their first aircraft model, the COMAC ARJ21.
This aircraft is designed for the regional areas of Asia and Africa. The plane has two models, one that seats 90 passengers to a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km/2,300 mi) and a second, bigger version that carries 105 passengers to a range of 1,800 nautical miles (3,300 km/2,100 mi).
You may notice that these range numbers and passenger numbers are quite low, but they are perfect for the mission profile of this aircraft. The ARJ is designed to operate regional filler routes to connect remote settlements and transfer passengers to bigger airports.
COMAC is also working on a Boeing 737-like variant and a Boeing 787-like version to carry passengers beyond the regional space. There is also a rumor of a Boeing 777/Airbus A350 variant, but details are slim.
Why is this delivery significant?
As reported by FlightGlobal, this delivery to Chengdu Airlines is significant in that it is the first aircraft delivered from the new Shanghai Pudong production line. This production line is the second in the ARJ21 series and will allow COMAC to catch up on delayed orders.
And boy, there are a lot of them! COMAC currently has ‘reportedly’ 378 orders and has only built 24 production aircraft. These orders are nearly all from Chinese airlines, but there is also an African airline looking at buying the type (likely for political favors). Allegedly there is an Indonesian carrier with an order for 60 of the model, but details have not been revealed.
Lastly, the US firm General Electric through its GECAS aviation leasing firm has an order for five ARJ21s (and an option for 20 more). This is because the powerplant on the ARJ21 is from GE, and they want some display models to show off the product to new clients.
This new production line will build 30 aircraft a year.
Why is the ARJ21 unpopular outside of China?
Why is the COMAC ARJ21 seemingly unpopular? Why has it got very few orders with Western or European airlines?
There are several different factors at play here. The first is that the COMAC ARJ21 is untested technology, and airlines don’t want to spend billions on new aircraft that may not operate flawlessly (you only need to look at the SJ100 to see what happened there).
Additionally, you need to consider maintenance issues. Beyond merely having an aircraft, airlines also need to factor in repairs and having an accredited engineer on-call, as well as the availability of spare parts. This is something that COMAC does not have outside of China.
Lastly, is the ARJ21 the best aircraft on the market? The Airbus A220, while bigger, outperforms the COMAC edition. Embraer brings its regional jet to the table; their E-Jet series will make anyone pause an ARJ21 purchase.
COMAC has a long way to go until the world accepts the ARJ21, but getting them out the door is a significant first step.
What do you think? Will you fly on the ARJ21? Let us know in the comments.