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China’s aviation regulator dashed any hopes COMAC may have had about certifying the C919 before year’s end. The aircraft needs more testing.

There are two big aircraft stories with upcoming developments, from China. One is the progress and eventual entry to service for Boeing’s 737 MAX, that we saw recently. The other is the certification of COMAC’s pretender to the single-aisle throne, the C919. We’re also keeping tabs on the CR929, a Sino-Russian widebody project. But that plane’s development is further into the future.

Certifying The C919 Will Not Happen In 2021

The C919. Photo: COMAC

COMAC’s target for certifying the C919 was the end of this year. The aircraft first appeared publicly at an airshow in November last year. But last September, the jet was absent from China’s highest-profile airshow, in Zhuhai. Some reasoned that the aircraft manufacturer was too busy with its flight testing program, to send a plane to the airshow.

It now seems that the aircraft is further back in testing than many expected. An official from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said that the C919 still needs “a huge amount of testing” before certifying it becomes possible. The regulator and the manufacturer have planned a total of 276 certification tests. So far, the aircraft has only completed 34 of them!

Certifying The C919 Will Not Happen In 2021

Photo: COMAC

Flight Testing And Certifying The C919

Part of the problem, for the Chinese manufacturer, is the existence of tougher export rules from the US to China. This affects not just the future production of the aircraft but also spares for jets currently in testing. So the manufacturer hasn’t kept up a testing pace fast enough for certifying the C919 this year.

Photo: AppleSteveGao, CC BY-SA 4.0

However, some opine that even if certifying the C919 was possible this year, its entry to service would have to wait. That’s because, after certification, COMAC will also need to wait for the aircraft’s production certificate. Elsewhere in the world, this comes at the same time as certification, or closely thereafter.

This isn’t necessarily the case in China. COMAC’s first jet, the ARJ21, got its production certificate two years after certification. Many expect a similar gap between certifying the C919 and putting it in service. Officially, China Eastern Airlines was to receive its first C919 before year’s end. But of course, this can’t happen before the jet’s certification.

The ARJ21. Photo: COMAC

In other news, a CAAC spokeswoman stated that Boeing’s 737 MAX should enter service again in China very soon. Airlines could resume commercial operations late in December, or early in January. The authority had not offered a date for return to service when it issued the aircraft’s airworthiness directive (AD) recently.

Beyond China’s C919, Russia’s Irkut should also be getting close to certifying its MC-21. This is the other single-aisle aircraft that challenges the Airbus-Boeing duopoly. The MC-21 seems to have a smaller potential market than the C919. But technologically, it seems like a rather interesting aircraft.

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