The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China was formed 10 years ago, on May 11, 2008. As a company defined by its products, it makes sense to examine the first 10 years of COMAC’s operations through its aircraft, the ARJ21-700, C919, and CR929. By doing so, its achievements in such a relatively short amount of time become readily apparent.
The ARJ21 is well-known for its many firsts; it is COMAC’s first project, and in its course became the first indigenous Chinese aircraft to be certified, enter commercial service, and receive a production certificate. However, the story of the ARJ21 actually precedes COMAC, a fact that provides much insight into the company’s roots. The ARJ21 program was officially launched in 2002 as a project of the state-owned AVIC I Commercial Aircraft Company (ACAC Consortium.) In 2009, the consortium was absorbed into a new company, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China. Thus, from the beginning COMAC had the mission to develop an indigenously-designed regional jet. Several years later, COMAC’s hard work paid off upon completion of the arduous testing and certification process; the company had successfully brought a homegrown Chinese passenger jet into service for the first time! While the development process for the ARJ21 faced many challenges, the accomplishment was no small feat given that this was uncharted territory for the country. With no other commercial aircraft company in China, COMAC completed this lofty mission after essentially starting from scratch. Furthermore, COMAC has drawn valuable lessons from the development of the ARJ21, learning the intricacies of aircraft production and design, which were/are applied to the next generation of COMAC aircraft, the C919.
If the ARJ21 represents the genesis of COMAC’s commercial aircraft endeavors, the C919 can be considered the flagship for its modern-day operations; it has certainly drawn enough attention following 2017’s first flight to be a poster child for COMAC products. The C919 was an ambitious project from the start; development began in 2008 while the ARJ21 was also undergoing development. It rolled out in November 2015, and completed its first flight in May 2017. If the ARJ21 is considered the original COMAC product, the C919 is arguably the aircraft that put COMAC on the global map. Much of the fanfare stems from COMAC’s ambitious goal for the C919 – to challenge the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus in the narrow-body mainline airliner market. While the C919 still has a way to go before its estimated 2021 service entry, it has already established itself as a flagship of Chinese aviation. In a way, the C919 occupies a perfect midway for COMAC at its 10th anniversary, as it has seen years of development in the past, while being marked by continuous accomplishments today, and carrying great excitement and potential for the future.
COMAC’s most recent undertaking, the CR929 maintains the trend of increasingly bold projects by the company. This third project will also be the largest- a long-range wide-body airliner produced in cooperation with Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) under the joint venture of CRAIC. While the project is young, having kicked off in September of 2017, it has already come a long way both in a practical and symbolic sense. In just a matter of months, the CR929 project has entered the joint concept design phase and issued RFPs to suppliers around the world. Moreover, with a projected service entry date of 2025, and the impressive jump in size and technology, this wide-body project has joined the C919 as a symbol of COMAC’s future. The CR929 aircraft is conceptually already a step up from other designs, and the use of high-tech composite materials adds an additional level of complexity to the project. With such great expectations the CR929 is the perfect representation of COMAC’s future.
With three major projects underway, COMAC’s endeavors represent not only the past, present and future of a company, but the hard work, determination and hope of a nation. And, as all of this has been accomplished in the first ten years of operation, the world should fasten its seatbelt (low and tight across the waist) for what the next ten years will bring!