The development program for the C919 commercial jet has gained another hurdle. Western suppliers are said to have prompted a further delay in the schedule of COMAC’s aircraft, the most ambitious civil aircraft ever created in China.
According to Reuters sources, the restrictions imposed by the US government since December 2020 on the supply of replacement parts for the aircraft are threatening its start of production.
The Trump administration considered that several Chinese manufacturers like COMAC itself are used by the communist government as fronts for the development of military technology. As a result, US companies are finding it more difficult to export their products to China.
The C919 was launched by state-owned COMAC in 2008 with a goal of entering service in 2014. The narrowbody jet can carry up to 168 passengers and is very similar in size to the Airbus A320.
Initially, COMAC sought the support of several Western companies in order to bring the C919 closer to its competitors in reliability and maintenance support, as well as facilitating possible certifications in other markets.
However, the Chinese government has been developing in parallel several local systems and equipment to not depend on external suppliers and as a way to modernize its own industry.
One of the most controversial points of the project concerns the Leap-1C engine, supplied by CFM (joint venture between Safran and GE). Although it is a partner, the company would have been the target of spying from China in order to provide reverse engineering for the domestic CJ-1000 turbofan project.
Despite the efforts, the C919 program is far behind. Six test aircraft are being used on the certification flights, but it is doubtful whether the CAAC, the Chinese civil aviation authority, will allow the plane to enter service in 2022, as expected.
In addition, the jet’s series production can take years to pick up pace, a recurring problem with the ARJ21 model, a regional jet based on the Boeing 717.
Despite this, the Chinese planemaker maintains its forecast of delivering the first production C919 to OTT Airlines, a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines, the only airline to sign a purchase agreement for the aircraft, with five units.