COMAC, China’s state-owned commercial aircraft manufacturer, celebrated the delivery of the 100th ARJ21-700 jet on December 29. The milestone had been awaited for a few weeks, since the company accelerated deliveries of the 90-seat plane at the end of 2022.
The 100th aircraft of the model, registration B-653M, was delivered to Air China, which now has 15 of these aircraft in its fleet.
According to Planespotters records, the plane is the 102nd manufactured, including aircraft that are part of COMAC’s own fleet, such as a CBJ, a business version that appeared in the publicity photo.
“The delivery of the 100th aircraft after the mass production is an important milestone for any commercial aircraft type. It means that the operating performance and operating level of the ARJ21 aircraft fleet are basically equal to that of mainstream aircraft, indicating that the safety and reliability of this aircraft have been fully tested by airlines and the civil aviation market,” said COMAC in a statement.
The ARJ21 is the first Chinese initiative to develop an aircraft on its own, however, the jet is actually an update of the MD-80/MD-90 family, from McDonnell Douglas, today Boeing, and which were previously produced under license.
Development started in 2002 and five years later the first prototype was presented, performing the maiden flight on November 28, 2008.
Flight tests, however, took a long time, due to the lack of experience in the Chinese aeronautical industry. The aircraft served as a learning curve for the more ambitious C919, which has just had its first aircraft delivered to China Eastern Airlines.
Although it maintains many visual similarities with the old US jet, the ARJ21-700 has wings with a supercritical design and is equipped with GE CF34 turbofans, the same used in Embraer’s first-generation E-Jets.
Chengdu Airlines is the largest operator of the ARJ21
After obtaining operational certification in December 2014, the ARJ21-700 entered service in early 2016 with Chengdu Airlines, which to date is the largest operator of the model, with 28 aircraft.
Mass production, however, only started in July 2017 and at a rather slow rate. In the following year, only eight planes left the assembly line, but little by little COMAC has increased the pace of production.
In 2021, there were 27 aircraft and in 2022, 32 ARJ21-700s were completed, however, delivered only in the second half. The annual production capacity is 50 aircraft, divided into two assembly lines.
Currently, the ARJ21 only has one direct competitor in terms of capacity, the E175, from Embraer, which in a single-class version can carry 88 passengers.
However, the two models have minimal chances of competing due to their focus on different markets. While the Embraer jet has the vast majority of orders coming from the US, where it is currently the only aircraft in production to meet the scope clause, the ARJ21 is mostly an aircraft aimed at Chinese airlines.
The exception is TransNusa, a small low-cost company from Indonesia, which received the first export ARJ21-700 in December. The company, however, has a Chinese leasing company as one of its partners.