If in other sectors, China is an industrial giant capable of materializing any product, in civil aviation the situation is quite different … and slow. Commercial aircraft developed in the country have suffered from delays and various difficulties, not to mention the accusations of industrial espionage.
The most famous Chinese aircraft, the C919, had several setbacks in its development even though it used Western technology. With suspicious similarities to the Airbus A320, the COMAC aircraft is expected to enter service at best in 2022.
It is the same year that another Chinese manufacturer, AVIC, hopes to fly the MA700, a passenger turboprop with a capacity for more than 70 seats. And just like the C919, the new aircraft is also inspired by another Western model, the ATR 72.
Despite not intending to innovate in any sense, the project continues at a very slow pace. In the last few days, the manufacturer presented the first test plane, in fact a unit for static tests and that will be used to prove the solutions adopted.
Without the PW150 engines, covers and painting, the prototype was removed from a huge hangar, accompanied by dozens of employees wearing masks after all China is still trying to get out of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is a huge delay compared to the original schedule that predicted the completion of the first aircraft in 2017 and the first flight in 2019 with Chinese certification by 2021. The forecast now is that the MA700 will only fly for the first time in 2022.
Plans to launch a passenger turboprop appeared in China in 2007, but have only recently started to come off the ground. AVIC and its subsidiary Xian have already produced a hundred of the MA60 and MA600 models, in fact variants of the Antonov An-24 turboprop.
With the MA700, the Chinese planemaker intends to take a big step forward by offering the local market a fast aircraft, capable of reaching up to 630 km/h and flying over distances up to 1,700 km with up to 85 passengers on board.
AVIC claims to have nearly 200 orders for the MA700, including customers in South Africa, Bahrain and Pakistan, in addition to Chinese companies.
To date, however, only one of the four commercial planes developed by China has entered service, the ARJ21, actually a local adaptation of an old Boeing MD-80.