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ARJ21 Xiang Feng [Flying Phoenix]

The ARJ21 is more than just a new airplane: It also represents China's high-tech ambitions, and its success or failure will be a key indicator of the country's technological prowess. Currently, only the US, the EU, Canada, Brazil, and Russia have proven their ability to successfully design, build, market and service large passenger jets, which are among the most prestigious and visible high-tech products in the world. China is eager to join that select list of countries, first with the ARJ21, and later, with a 250-seat wide-body aircraft.

The Chinese jet does not boast any technological breakthroughs, such as Boeing unveiled with the all-composite fuselage on the Boeing 787. And China hired more than 10 of the world's best aircraft parts suppliers, including industry leaders such as Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, and GE, to supply systems for the ARJ21. General Electric will supply the jet engines for the aircraft, which will rely on key foreign technology for some 40 percent of the value of the plane.

The 90-seat ARJ21-700 jet with three curved blue stripes on the fuselage, named "Xiang Feng" or "Flying Phoenix", is about 33 meters long and 27 meters in wing span. Its maximum flight range is 3,700 kilometers and maximum altitude, 11,900 meters. Initially, ACAC plans to build two models of its new jet: the Standard Range (SR), which will fly 2,225 kilometers, and the Extended Range (ER), which will fly 3,700km, with fewer passengers. Both will offer 78 seats in a two-class configuration (business and economy) and 90 people in an all-economy layout. Later, ACAC will build a longer model providing 98 seats in two classes, and 105 seats in an all-economy layout. For this project, ACAC will receive help from Bombardier.

By the end of 2000, it appeared that China had abandoned the ambition to build a medium-capacity, single-aisle airliner. "We cannot compete with aviation giants such as Boeing and Airbus in financial clout and market share" (Zhang Hongbiao, Vice Minister of the Commission of Science, Technology & Industries of National Defence (COSTIND), quoted in China daily, 6 November 2000). China's 'best bet' would be producing regional airliners.

The market prospect for regional jets in China was promising even after the events of 11 September 2001. Boeing predicted that around 70 per cent of the total of the 1800 new medium and large-sized commercial aircraft purchased by China over the next twenty years would be single-aisle regional jets (Keck, 2001). The competition for selling regional jets to China is intense. Bombardier and Embraer are racing each other for selling into the Chinese airliners. Boeing and Airbus continue to actively market their smallest aircraft to Chinese airlines in an effort to capture the growing regional jet market.

Price competition in all aircraft categories can be expected to intensify following the collapse in the world aircraft market after 11 September 2001. This was good news for Chinese airlines, but bad news for a potential regional jet produced in China. If China is, indeed, successful in designing and building its own regional jet, it will be far behind in the race for its own national market by the time that the first deliveries begin. This will be a huge disadvantage in an already intensely competitive segment of the world aircraft market.

The ARJ21 (Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st Century) was developed independently by China. It was also the first Chinese aircraft to be sold to Europe and America. The ARJ21 was launched in 2002. COSTIND would invest $600-$725 million in R&D for the new regional jet program aiming to build a new 50-70-seat turbofan aircraft to international standards. AVIC 1 established AVIC 1 Commercial Aircraft Company (ACAC) to oversee resources, production, certification and marketing of ARJ21, the new 79-99 seat regional jet. AVIC 1 hoped to sell 300 ARJ21s to the domestic market and export 200 in twenty years. GE was chosen to supply the CF34-10A engine and the Honeywell and Parker Hannifin team is to develop, produce and support the ARJ21's flight control system. AVIC 1 has also been in discussions with Bombardier about a regional jet joint venture, but the future of this is uncertain.

AVIC 2 devised a separate three-step plan for developing regional aircraft: establishing a joint venture for final assembly, producing components locally and developing by-products and new products. AVIC 2's joint venture with Embraer to produce a 30-50-seat regional plane in Harbin had been approved.

In September 2005 Huang Qiang, president of the first Airplane Designing Institute with China Aviation Industry Corporation I (AVIC I), said his institute, based at Yanliang near Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, had been busy with the jet's final interface designing, but details of the designing for the plane will be completed by the end of 2005. The plane's maiden flight was to be conducted in late 2006.

The first nose section of ARJ21 was delivered in Chengdu, capital city of southwest China's Sichuan Province, on 20 December 2006. The first homegrown ARJ-21 jet, with 90 seats, rolled off the assembly line in Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory on 21 December 2007.

The ARJ21-700 had its roll-out in December 2007 as scheduled and was due to have its first test flight in March 2008 but a spokesman for the aircraft marker in Shanghai said 04 March 2008 that "it will not happen in March". He said the first flight may be sometime before July 2008 year but the company had yet to set a date.

China's first homegrown regional jet, an ARJ21-700, completed its maiden flight 28 November 2008 in Shanghai. The maiden flight began at 12:23 p.m. and lasted for about an hour at Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory, where the jet rolled out the general assembly line at the end of 2007. The jet was normal and the flight was smooth.

A number of issues affected the ARJ21, the most prominent of which is the wing crack problem that was discovered during stress tests in 2010. However, later examinations also uncovered problems with wiring as well as malfunctioning avionics - a system integration problem.

China's first homemade regional jet, the ARJ21, would delay its delivery again to the end of 2013 due to some "subtle" problems during its testing and certification, a senior official of Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China said 13 July 2012. It was the third delivery delay of the jet that was initially scheduled to be delivered in 2007, but later rescheduled to the end of 2011. There were 208 orders for the 90-seat jet from domestic and overseas buyers.

Originally promised for 2007, the plane was most recently expected late this year, but Comac Chairman Jin Zhuanglong said 27 September 2013 it will now be ready in mid-2014. "The development will not always go smoothly, and the program cannot be accomplished in one stroke," Jin was quoted as saying in comments released by the company. Jin blamed delays in the ARJ21 program on China's inexperience in designing, building and certifying commercial jetliners.

By September 2013 the ARJ21 was in the final phase of flight test and on track for entry into service in mid 2014. Four prototypes had flown more than 2,000 missions and logged over 4,000 hours; the first two customer aircraft were in final assembly, and the third was under construction. The ARJ21 had pioneered flight tests for certification that were never carried out before in China, which includes minimum lift-off speed, hot weather fuel system certification, and noise compliance, with representatives present from the CAAC and FAA. Since the beginning of 2013 the ARJ21 had cumulatively completed 141 of the 283 applicant flight tests needed for compliance, and 87 of the 241 flight tests for certification.

China's first two home-grown ARJ 21 regional jets for commercial service rolled off the assembly line in Shanghai on 30 December 2013. The turbofan regional jets, with 70 economy, and eight first-class seats, would be delivered to Chengdu Airlines in 2014. Another three would be assembled in 2014. The ARJ 21 had received 252 orders, most from domestic airlines. To become a commercial success the company will have to build and sell 500 ARJ21 aircraft. The country is currently capable of producing 20 ARJ21 jets a year, but that will eventually be increased to 50.

Despite first being planned by COMAC’s predecessor in 2005 and taking its first flight in 2008, by mid-2014 the ARJ21 had yet to receive certification from either the CAAC or the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The company said it had at least 250 orders for the jet from domestic carriers and holding groups and plans for certification to take place later in the year followed closely by commercial service.

The ARJ21 is more comfortable than most of its competitors. The seat is bigger than the ERJ series (Embraer's smaller 50-seat jets) and bigger than [Bombardier's] CRJ series. On the ARJ21, the difference between two passengers is 19 inches, so the cabin is large and comfortable, and our cargo layout is bigger as well.

By one estimate, the jet sells for about US$27 million, compared with US$30 million for a 90-seat Bombardier jet. By another estimate, the list price of a new ARJ21 is $30.5 million, but the company is offering the planes for much less. That compares to the approximate $38 million list price for an Embraer 190, which is a 114-seat jet, and $30 million for the 80-seat Embraer 170.

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Page last modified: 16-06-2014 19:57:24 ZULU