The World Routes 2016 host city of Chengdu and wider Sichuan Province of China is famous being home to the Giant Panda, but this week it also became home to another rare breed, China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation (COMAC) ARJ21, the country’s first regional jet manufactured according to international standards.
Under development for 12 years, the first production 90-seat ARJ21 airliner has now been officially delivered to launch customer, Chengdu Airlines, arriving at the carrier’s Shuangliu International Airport base on November 29, 2015 following a 2 hour 48 minute delivery flight from the COMAC facility in Shanghai.
The airline, which is partly-owned by COMAC, will act as marketing vehicle for the manufacturer to highlight the performance and efficiency of the airliner and help to showcase the aircraft in the local market. It comes to market around eight years later than first planned due to a production programme plagued with development problems and had originally been developed to compete against the now established regional programmes from the likes of Bombardier and Embraer.
Chengdu Airlines has 30 of the type on order and is due to receive four further examples in 2016. The airline is currently training crews on this type-specific platform and will therefore slowly introduce the type into its scheduled network. This is planned for the first quarter of next year serving some of the biggest routes from Chengdu, including Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, before being deployed into other markets in southwest China.
COMAC has faced difficulties delivering the ARJ21 due, according to local officials, to a shortage of experienced technicians in the local aerospace industry. The delay can also be accountable to COMAC putting additional resources into the C919 project, a 150-seat mainline jet that it hopes will rival the successful Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 programmes and which made its public roll-out recently.
It is understood that COMAC has firm commitments for around 150 ARJ21s, mainly from Chinese airlines and leasing companies. The orderbook could be as strong as 350 when you include tentative deals and include export orders from Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar and the Republic of Congo.
Chengdu is among the forerunners for aviation and economic development among China’s second tier destinations. It is both a thriving business and aviation hub and a city of incredible natural beauty, where mountains, rivers and wild forests meet a bustling business district.
As the most developed city in western China, Chengdu saw an 8.9 per cent growth in Gross Domestic Product in 2014 and ranks first in Forbes’ global list of the fastest-developing cities of the next ten years. It is also regarded as one of the top historical and cultural cities in China, with over 2,300 years of Chinese heritage.
Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport currently ranks as the fourth largest aviation hub in mainland China. Recent international arrivals to the airport include a direct British Airways link to London Heathrow, a Qatar Airways link to Doha, and a first direct link to the United States with a United Airlines service to San Francisco. The new Tianfu International Airport will start serving the Chengdu market from around 2019 to bring additional capacity into the city’s air transport system.