An old Chinese saying goes “Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still”. Perhaps these words help Chinese aerospace managers deal with more delay news.
Let’s start with the ARJ21, which was first scheduled to enter service 7 years ago in 2009. Launch customer Chengdu Airlines received their first aircraft in November and made several “demonstration” flights without passengers in January. According to AFP, “The Civil Aviation Administration of China is still doing preparation work for the first flight, so maybe it hasn’t finished,” a COMAC spokesman told AFP, referring to the government regulator. “The airline and CAAC have the final say.” COMAC, CAAC and Chengdu Airlines have egg on their faces.
The ARJ21 was approved in 2001. It took five years for COMAC to show off a model fuselage. Fourteen years in the making, this program makes the delays among western OEMs seem like mere blips.
Not to pile on, but then there is the follow on C919. It is a project that was supposed to bring COMAC and the rest of China’s aerospace industry nearly up to the speed of Airbus and Boeing. Reuters reports “The maiden flight of China’s only homegrown commercial jet, the C919, is behind schedule and delivery could be pushed back as much as two years.” If the C919 achieves EIS by 2020, it will be very far behind the neo and MAX – which are likely to have been improved even more by then from their current configurations.
China’s ambitions are being shown up in harsh light. But as the saying above indicates, as long as they are not standing still. But is there a saying about going backwards?
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Flightgolbal recently published a report on its tour of the factory where the C919 is being assembled:
The last paragraphs are particularly telling…
“Following the roll-out in November 2015, large sections of the aircraft have been taken off.
The two CFM Leap-1C engines have been removed, as have all the control surfaces on the trailing edge of the wing. There are also no leading edge flaps mounted. The aircraft’s elevators, however, are mounted on the horizontal stabilisers.
While the landing gear is mounted, the landing gear doors have been removed. The aircraft is also supported by pneumatic jacks.
In the interior of the jet, there is no apparent wiring and there is a still a temporary wooden floor underfoot. All cabin doors and emergency exits have been removed.
In addition, the cockpit is devoid of any flight controls or instruments. A company official says these were in place for the roll-out, but subsequently taken out.”