On April 23, COMAC celebrated the delivery of the 24th unit of the ARJ21, the first Chinese commercial jet. Delivered to Chengdu Airlines, which operates 19 units of the model, the new jet symbolizes the resumption of production after the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, COMAC announced that it would open a second assembly line for the ARJ21 to double the production volume to 60 planes a year. The company claims to have 330 orders for the regional jet, in addition to the units already delivered.
The vast majority of these orders are, of course, from Chinese companies. The only exceptions are an order for four aircraft from the Republic of Congo and 10 units from an Indonesian investment group. Another foreign customer is GECAS, a leasing company part of the North American group General Electric.
The ARJ21 is considered the first passenger jet developed in China, but it is actually an evolution of Boeing’s MD-80 and MD-90. Although the country has assembled planes for several decades, usually models under license from Russia, China preferred to buy commercial aircraft abroad.
The ARJ21 program was launched in 2002 and the first flight of the prototype took place only in 2008. The development of the aircraft, however, was painful, with the first delivery taking place only in 2016 for Chengdu Airlines.
The jet plays the role of “guinea pig” for COMAC, the state-owned company created by the Chinese government to enable the creation of a line of commercial jets. Its main product is, in fact, the C919, which has a similar size to the A320. Like ARJ21, this plane is also facing great difficulties in its development.
With a huge commercial aircraft market, China is expected to absorb a large number of aircraft in the coming years, so it is important that part of it is supplied by local models.
Although affordable, priced at around $ 40 million, the ARJ21 is unlikely to find many buyers outside of China, even though it costs half as much as an Airbus A220-100.
If it satisfies the Chinese airlines it will have already been a great achievement for the small jet of COMAC.