First series-production C919 flies for the first time

COMAC aircraft to be delivered to China Eastern Airlines, but program suffers from delays and dependence on Western components

COMAC, the Chinese commercial aircraft manufacturer, performed the maiden flight of the first series-production C919 jet on Saturday, May 14.

The aircraft, registration B-001J, took off from Shanghai’s Pudong Airport at 6:52 am (local time) and completed a 3-hour, 2-minute flight, according to COMAC, which stated that “preparations for the test flight and delivery of the large C919 aircraft are progressing in an orderly manner”.

Despite the optimism, the C919 program, the first commercial jet fully developed in the country, accumulates delays and issues. Certification by CAAC, the Chinese civil aviation agency, has not yet taken place, despite six test aircraft being used for it.

In January, AirInsight found that 242 certification flights were missing from the 276 scheduled. One of the alleged reasons for the delay would have been the Covid-19 pandemic, which prevented four of the prototypes from carrying out flights for a long time.

For that reason, the completion of the first series production aircraft can only serve as a smokescreen for the Chinese government while solving crucial bottlenecks such as the supply of avionics and engines for the aircraft.

Aircraft to be delivered to China Eastern Airlines (COMAC)

“Generic A320”

The C919 uses the Leap-1C turbofan, also present in the 737 MAX and A320neo, of which it is considered a “generic copy”. But US embargoes have affected supplies to COMAC.

China tries to follow the same roadmap as Russia, which seeks to end Western dependence with domestic equivalents, but the country’s industry has less knowledge of various manufacturing processes. The CJ-1000A engine, for example, is still in the early stages of development.

The C919 B-001J is due to be delivered to OTT Airlines, a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines, the only customer to close a firm order for the aircraft – there are hundreds of purchase intentions from Chinese airlines that sooner or later will be “confirmed” at the request of the Party Communist.

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