In 2018, COMAC celebrated its 10th anniversary of operation. Although 10 years is a relatively short amount of time to exist in the commercial aerospace industry, in a way this short length of time gives added meaning to the accomplishments made in a single year. For a newcomer in the commercial aerospace industry to succeed in the batch production and delivery of one model, the entry into flight testing of another, and the establishment of a third program in just 10 years attests to the ambition of the aircraft maker. Each year saw new ground being broken and major milestones reached. As we enter 2019 and look upon the accomplishments of the previous year, it is obvious that 2018 was no different. The year 2018 saw major progress in a variety of areas:
In 2018, COMAC received 30 firm orders for the C919 and 45 for the ARJ21, bringing total orders to 815 and 528 respectively. While the order numbers at the beginning of 2018 were already considerable, the steady growth of the COMAC order book underlined the confidence domestic aircraft manufacturers have in COMAC’s aircraft. This year, major orders and LOIs came from customers including Genghis Kahn Airlines, Urumqi Air, and Hainan Airlines Group.
Following the ramp-up of production, this year alone 6 new ARJ21 aircraft were delivered to launch customer Chengdu Airlines. On Dec. 29, the 10th ARJ21 was delivered to Chengdu Airlines. The growth of Chengdu Airlines’ ARJ21 fleet is just a preview of the proliferation of the type throughout China and beyond; and speaking of previews, during the 2018 Zhuhai Airshow COMAC unveiled two new ARJ21 aircraft for the next two customers, Genghis Khan Airlines and Urumqi Air, building excitement for next year’s deliveries. The ARJ21 wasn’t the only aircraft of note delivered by COMAC in 2018; on Dec. 15, the first Boeing 737 MAX 8 was delivered to Air China by the COMAC-Boeing 737 completion center in Zhoushan. The facility, a joint venture between the two companies, sees new Boeing 737 aircraft flown in from Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington to Zhoushan, where the final touches (interiors, seating, etc.) are added before being delivered directly to Chinese customers.
2018 saw a variety of critical tests and milestones for all three major aircraft programs. The ARJ21 test program stretched far and wide over China, completing a variety of tests in various climates and conducting a variety of important missions. As always, the test flights of the C919 received much attention; throughout the year, the 1st C919 carried out a variety of test flights at the COMAC test flight center in Dongying, later being joined by the 2nd C919. The year culminated with the first flight test of the 3rd C919, B-001D. Although it has already entered mass production, the ARJ21 has continued to break new ground in flight testing. One of the biggest accomplishments for the program in 2018 was the successful completion of crosswind landing tests in Keflavik, Iceland. After navigating crosswinds as high as 35 knots, the ARJ21 proved its handling capabilities in crosswinds far exceeding the minimum speed required for certification. In other words, it performed even better than expected. This was not the only weather-related test for the ARJ in 2018, as the test fleet also conducted extreme weather tests throughout china, such as high-heat tests in the deserts of Xinjiang.
Not all testing is necessarily done in the air; over 2018, COMAC completed many ground-based tests that were critical for the certification of its aircraft. For example, COMAC engineers successfully completed a variety of tests for the C919 project, including static wing-load testing and pressurization tests.
Over the course of 2018, COMAC achieved various technical breakthroughs that promise to improve the way the company builds safe and efficient aircraft. In 2018, COMAC made significant progress with composite materials, revealing a prototype composite fuselage panel for the CR929, a composite wing box for the C919, and finally closing out the year with the rollout of a full-scale CR929 forward fuselage section.
Over 2018, COMAC reached multiple milestones that, while accomplishments in and of themselves, also serve as precursors for even greater accomplishments in the future. Within a year of being launched, the Sino-Russian CR929 widebody aircraft has seen considerable progress in 2018. This past year, important technical milestones were reached, such as the returning of engine RFPs and the official determination of the overall shape and size, laying the foundation for the continued design and construction of a flying prototype. During the 2018 Airshow China in Zhuhai, the CR929 captured the aviation world’s attention when a full-scale cabin and flight deck mockup was revealed, exhibiting the modern luxuries and features that it will offer pilots and passengers alike. And, as mentioned earlier, the CR929 ended the year on a strong note when a composite fuselage section prototype was revealed.
2018 was a year full of steady growth and accomplishment for COMAC and its projects. Across all aspects of the company, progress was made toward the design, manufacturing, and operation of aircraft that offer customers safety and efficiency. With such momentum, we are sure to see many more accomplishments in 2019.