The COMAC ARJ-21, China’s first passenger jet, entered service today with Chengdu Airlines. The 78-90 passenger aircraft, originally scheduled to enter service in 2006, has finally entered revenue service. The Advanced Regional Jet was designed nearly 15 years ago, and is a generation behind western regional aircraft. But it did serve a purpose for COMAC, as it was the training ground for a cadre of aerospace engineers that will build the C919 narrow-body trunk liner and participate in a COMAC-Russian joint venture to develop a new wide-body aircraft.
The entry into service for the ARJ-21 has taken much longer than originally anticipated, after encountering multiple issues with respect to certification and several modifications to the aircraft. We do not expect the aircraft to sell in western markets, as it is not competitive economically with current and forthcoming models from Sukhoi, Bombardier, Embraer and Mitubishi.
The ARJ-21 is not certified in the US or Europe, and as a result will likely be restricted to Chinese operations. COMAC plans to certify a second variant of the ARJ-21 in the US, as it will require US and EASA certification for its forthcoming C919. If one considers the ARJ-21 as a learning project, it has certainly provided a significant number of lessons for COMAC engineers.
We welcome COMAC to the industry as a commercial manufacturer with aircraft in passenger service. But even as it is good to see another aircraft enter the field, there are concerns. The WSJ quotes Xinhua, the Chinese news agency in reporting on the flight citing complaints from the pilot about noise and vibration in the cabin. “The manufacturer has plans to make improvements and we hope that they can resolve the noise and vibration issues,” Xinhua quoted Chengdu Airlines Capt. Zhang Fangjie as saying. COMAC has a way to go still, even with the delays.