Comac C919’s Certification Not Likely Until 2021

The advent of a Chinese made rival to Boeing and Airbus will have to wait a little longer to come to market. The Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC) narrowbody contender, the C919, was originally targeted to be certified by 2020, however, news today suggests that this has been pushed back to 2021.

COMAC C919 loading
The C919 is not expected to receive certification before 2021. Photo: COMAC

A new target of 2021

The COMAC C919 has been a long time coming. Having flown for the first time in 2017, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the jet should have been certified and ready for sale by now. However, things don’t appear to have been going to plan for COMAC, as it has been revealed today that their original deadline for certification by late 2020 has slipped.

C919
A more realistic timeline for the C919? Photo: COMAC

According to Reuters, the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (COMAC) is now looking to 2021 for certification of their C919 jet. The news was first reported on the China News Service, where it was said that the chief designer, Wu Guanghui, had revealed the new target.

Previously, industry commentators had mooted that the original deadline of late 2020 had seemed a bit optimistic. Hopefully, this nudge to the certification target is simply a recalibration of the time required to do the necessaries, rather than a sign that something has gone wrong.

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What’s going on with the COMAC C919?

Despite the timescales slipping, there has been much progress in the COMAC camp in recent months. The first C919 flew in 2017, which was already three years later than originally planned, with the first two prototypes clocking up very few flight hours until this time last year.

However, in mid-2018, COMAC announced that they were beginning intensive flight testing, and brought the third prototype into action in December last year. By the state of this month, four working prototypes were in service, with the fourth C919 completing its first mission on 1st August.

4th prototype
The 4th prototype took to the skies just a week ago. Photo: COMAC

Just days ago, Xinhua reported that the C919 was due to enter a phase of ‘intensive flight tests’ in the second half of the year, suggesting that all was going well. They also said that COMAC planned to bring two more prototypes into service for flight testing.

It seems that COMAC has passed the initial phase of airborne verification of their jet, and are now moving into the certification portion of the test flying. While the slip to the timescale is undoubtedly disappointing for those working on the project, it’s probably more of a reality check than a signal that something is wrong.

Taking on Airbus and Boeing

The C919 has been designed to combat the stranglehold that Boeing and Airbus have on the narrowbody jet market. Specifications suggest that the plane will hold between 158 and 168 passengers, and will have a range of just over 4,000km up to 5,555km.

Already the C919 has received a total of 815 orders from 28 different customers, mostly based in China. However, many of these orders are thought to be LOI or MoUs rather than firm orders. Aside from leasing companies, carriers who have ordered the plane include Hainan, Air China, China Eastern and China Southern.

C919 landing
Over 800 orders have already been placed. Photo: COMAC

Despite the pushback to the certification timeline, it seems China is gearing up to get the aircraft out quickly once it achieves approval. ATW reports that Wu noted how preparations for volume production of the C919 are well underway.

C929
The widebody C929 is next! Photo: COMAC

And it doesn’t look like COMAC are stopping there either. ECNS report that the Chinese made widebody contender, the C929, has completed joint concept design and is looking for suppliers as it moves into the next stage.

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Nigel

Looks a bit like an A220.
I wonder what its list price is.
And why the limited range, despite the modern engines? Small fuel tanks?

Tony

This just proves as Bombardier found out, bring a new plane to market you need BIG BALLS and deep pockets!

Alex

Given time I’m sure the Chinese aviation industry will catch up. After all they are developing a next generation narrowbody to take on Boeing and Airbus, quite a large undertaking! Comac’s engineers should spend as much time as necessary on perfecting the design and optimising performance. This will have a larger design benefit in the long term compared to a few late deliveries in the short term. The knowledge and expertise they gain from this program should give them a better starting position when it comes to building and certifying the C929. Only real obstacle is Mr Trump’s trade war.… Read more »

Alex

As I understand the C919 still relies heavily on an aluminum design for simplicity. Perhaps overtime they will have the technology and resources to build more composite components which will reduce it’s empty weight. No doubt Comac can offer this aircraft for less than a 737 or A320, given lower material and building costs, particularly as the program matures.