China’s first domestically built commercial jet, the ARJ-21 (an acronym for advanced regional jet for the 21st century), entered commercial service on Tuesday morning. On board the ARJ-21’s first flight, from Chengdu to Shanghai, were airline executives, aerospace engineers and journalists.
“I feel like the noise is slightly louder on the ARJ-21 than in other planes that I have taken, but I do feel very safe since I know the ARJ-21 has the world record for the most flight testing hours,” one journalist who took part in this historic moment for Chinese aviation said. Some passengers also told the media after their arrival in Shanghai that the food supplied on board was fantastic, while others complained about the absence of an in-flight entertainment system. The flight from Chengdu to Shanghai is around 3 hours.
The ARJ-21 Xiangfeng, is a twin-engined regional jet manufactured and designed by Chinese aerospace company Comac, a state-owned corporation that aims to reduce Chinese airlines’ dependency on Boeing and Airbus. The development of the ARJ-21, beginning in 2002, was deemed as a key project in China’s “10th Five Year Plan.” Comac was initially scheduled to introduce the jet to commercial services in 2006; however, the original plan ended up to be delayed for nearly a decade in total after numerous mechanical design problems surfaced during test flights.
The ARJ-21 still is flying without U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification despite a five-year effort to have the FAA endorse the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). The FAA certificate would have boosted the reputation of Comac and cleared the path for the global operation and sale of the ARJ-21. As of now, Comac has only received 350 orders for its new commercial jet, mainly from Chinese airlines and leasing firms. In comparison, the Brazilian-made Embraer E-Jet family has won over 1,500 orders.
Despite the unremarkable financial return on the project, Comac does not seem to be particularly concerned with the commercial performance of the ARJ-21 as the program itself is a “learning experience” in preparation for the Comac C919, another twin-engined jet airliner scheduled to be introduced in 2019. China intends to enter the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus in the near future with the production of the C919 and subsequent proposed projects the C929 and the C939.
Chinese netizens have voiced their support for the nation’s first passenger jet on Weibo, calling the flight “another addition to China’s technological accomplishments,” while some Western media outlets address the ARJ-21 as “a clunker” and remain skeptical regarding the reliability and performance of the jet.
But didn’t we all take baby steps before we started running?
Watch the ARJ-21’s maiden flight below:
By Chong Li
[Image via Xinhua / NetEase // Video via The Wall Street Journal]