More than 12 years after the launch of the ARJ21 programme, the Chinese authorities finally awarded the country’s first home-grown regional jet type certification last week (December 30, 2014).
It has been a long and arduous journey for all concerned, with multiple redesigns and technical issues – the last being problems with the strength of the jet’s landing gear – repeatedly pushing back the ARJ21’s entry into service.
Launched in 2002, the project was originally headed by Aviation Industry Corporation of China with the goal of entering service in 2007. In 2008, the programme was taken over by COMAC and while the 78-90 seat jet took its first flight that year, it would take another six years to achieve certification, leading critics to label it outdated before it has taken its first commercial flight.
And they may have a point.
The design for the ARJ21 – which stands for “Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st Century” – took inspiration from the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, which entered into service in 1980, and its CF34-10E engines are based on the CF34-10A which power Embraer’s E190 and E195 and entered into service 10 years ago.
Furthermore, the problems that dogged the ARJ21’s design and delayed its launch have left it entering into service just ahead of a wave of new regional jets boasting the latest, more efficient engine technologies.
Though facing delays itself, Bombardier’s CSeries seems set for a 2016 launch, meanwhile Japan’s MRJ looks good for a 2017 entry into service and Embraer is planning the first deliveries of its E2 in 2018. All these jets are powered by Pratt & Whitney’s new geared turbofan which, according to Embraer, will contribute to a 16 per cent per seat fuel saving for the E190-2 over the current model.
While the ARJ21’s manufacturers may have harboured ambitions to take on the western OEMs, it now seems unlikely that it will attempt to achieve FAA certification for the aircraft.
Instead it seems that COMAC is focused on learning the lessons from its “struggles” with the ARJ21’s development and making sure the C919 programme doesn’t suffer the same fate.