Chinese COMAC Eyes Second ARJ21 Assembly Line

Chinese aircraft manufacturer COMAC has opened a second assembly line at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. It marks an uptick in output from the Pudong plant and is a sign of confidence in the future of the state-owned enterprise.

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Comac has just opened a second assembly line in Shanghai. Photo: Charly W. Karl via Flickr.

The news was reported in AIN Online. It came as COMAC completed work on another ARJ21-700 aircraft last week. That aircraft successfully undertook its first production flight, staying in the air for nearly four hours.

Production constraints have slowed delivery

To date, COMAC has delivered 23 ARJ21s to local airlines, including Chengdu Airlines, Genghis Khan Airlines, Jiangxi Air, and CFGAC. There are another 278 aircraft on order across various carriers.

Approximately 30 ARJ21-700s have been manufactured to date. One of the constraints was the single assembly line at Pudong, limiting production to 15 aircraft per year. Now, that is set to double.

COMAC is China’s response to aircraft manufacturing duopoly

COMAC is China’s answer to the dominance of Airbus and Boeing. It is a limited response thus far but building an aircraft manufacturing industry is not an overnight business, even for China.

Seating just 90 passengers in a single class cabin, the ARJ21-700 takes on the Boeing owned Embraer in the small regional jet market. Arguably, it is an underserved market.

COMAC has ambitions for its delayed C919, a mid-size jet seating around 160 passengers and the larger twin bodied C929 that will seat around 300 passengers.

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The first C919 is due for delivery in 2021. Photo: Ken Chen via Wikimedia Commons.

The first test flight of the C919 has been completed and the first delivery to China Eastern Airlines is expected next year. COMAC plans to have the first C929 test flight in 2025 and certification in 2027.

Clearly, COMAC does not plan to be a niche manufacturer for long.

Interest in COMAC aircraft from Ryanair

To this point, interest in COMAC aircraft has primarily come from Chinese airlines (although GECAS, an Irish-American aviation finance and leasing company has ordered five with options for 20 more).

But UK aviation juggernaut Ryanair is also interested. As Tom Boon reported earlier this week, it is an interest that goes back eight years.

In 2011, Ryanair signed an MOU with COMAC regarding a 200 seat C919 variant. Last week, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary told Simple Flying that he was still committed to the C919.

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Ryanair remains interested in introducing a variant of the C919 into its fleet and shaking up the aircraft manufacturing duopoly. Photo: peakpx.com

Perhaps even more interesting are his comments on the need for a third aircraft manufacturer. Mr O’Leary said;

“All airlines and customers need to see the emergence of a third manufacturer to replace McDonnell Douglas and the Chinese would be a very welcome addition.

“I think just the very fact is there will be more supply [is good]. When you look at the state of the industry in the last twelve months, the delay of the MAX, the grounding of the MAX aircraft, the delay in the return to service has put enormous pressure on capacity across the industry and that has also meant there is has been less growth.”

Capitalist competition benefits Chinese state-owned manufacturer

That kind of endorsement will have the bosses at COMAC skipping with glee. Like Boeing and Airbus, COMAC has had its problems. The C919, in particular, has been beset with delays. It’s rather ironic that the old capitalist notion of the benefits of competition should go down so well at COMAC and fuel its future plans.

It might not be long before we see even more assembly lines at COMAC.

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