The slow and complicated C919 commercial jet development program has just had one more test aircraft. The fourth prototype of the Chinese aircraft produced by COMAC made its maiden flight on Thursday in Shanghai.
The C919 is the most ambitious Chinese commercial jet. Much like the Airbus A320, the single-aisle twin-engine was launched in 2008 and currently accumulates more than 1,000 aircraft sold between firm orders and purchase commitments – virtually all from companies and agencies in China.
Nevertheless, one should not overlook the C919. Although it has faced huge difficulties since then, with the first flight taking place only in 2017, the COMAC jet could turn into a headache for Boeing and Airbus.
Its price is reported to be about 50% cheaper than a 737 or A320, which is unparalleled in aviation. The C919 utilizes a composite material fuselage and wings in addition to CFM-supplied Leap-1C engines like its western rivals – although it is also prepared to receive a Chinese turbofan, the CJ-1000AX, in development.
Its avionics are supplied by Western companies and much of the homologation program follows US and European standards, already in preparation for possible orders from airlines outside China.
Entering service in 2021
Called by COMAC Aircraft 104, the fourth prototype performed a 1 hour and 25 minute flight focused on takeoff, landing and avionics tests. The aircraft, unlike the previous ones, does not yet display a complete livery.
The aim of the Chinese airframer is to approve the C919 this year and put it into operation in 2021 after recognizing that the delayed development of the aircraft no longer made it possible to start service next year.
COMAC has made some slips in its testing program, although it claims that these are normal situations. The aircraft was on the ground for several months after the first flight and had delamination in external parts. During this time, the manufacturer has changed design details while attempting to enlarge its flight envelope.
Despite the tortuous development, the C919 could become the first off-axis America-Europe commercial jet to really catch the eye of airlines in the world.