Challenge accepted
Success of most recent C919 test flights gives COMAC drive to secure airworthiness certification
Published: May 17, 2018 06:38 PM

China's second C919 takes off during its first test flight at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in December 2017. Photo: IC


The C919, a China-made narrow-body aircraft aiming to break the monopoly of foreign manufacturers, has been smoothly on its way from the blueprint to the blue sky.

Within the past year, the second C919 aircraft successfully flew through the skies of China. The two Chinese-made aircraft have completed 23 test flights, with even more test flights expected in the coming year.

As an exemplar of high-end plane manufacturing, the C919 not only embodies the true value of a large aircraft, but also sets a high standard for the whole country to follow.

On top of that, it also sets high requirements for industrialization and information integration.

It is clear that China's aircraft industry has made breakthroughs in technology R&D and commercial operations over the past year, but how to make the airplanes accepted by more countries, airlines and travelers is still a pressing issue.

But right now, one of the top priorities is the flight tests.

Put to the test

According to Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd (COMAC), the third C919 is expected to undergo its maiden flight in Shanghai at the end of this year, and another three airplanes are due to undergo flight tests in 2019.

COMAC, the C919's manufacturer is likely to oversee all test flights of the six C919s, tests that will check the maneuverability, avionics, lighting and cabin system of the aircraft.

The plane's ability to fly during hot and cold temperatures will also be put to the test.

Those undergoing the test flight will pay particular attention to high risk factors such as stalling, flutters and natural icing.

As the airplane has adopted new technology and new compound materials, those features could also pose challenges during the upcoming test flights. 

Getting certified 

Another priority for COMAC is securing airworthiness certification.

In February, the manufacturer said that a domestic leasing firm had placed an order for 30 of its C919 passenger aircraft and 20 smaller ARJ21 jets, pushing C919 orders to reach 815.

Customers comprise 28 companies from both home and abroad, including China's national carrier Air China and leasing company GE Capital Aviation Service.

Currently, civil aviation authorities in various countries and regions have their own airworthiness standards, but those set by the US and Europe have been widely adopted by others due to their mature technologies.

To ensure the entrance of the jet into the foreign market, China has already been in talks with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to obtain airworthiness certification for the C919.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in May 2017 called on Germany to help China's push toward securing certification for its in-development C919 narrow-body from the EASA, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

In October 2017, before US President Donald Trump's visit to China, the FAA and its Chinese counterpart the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) signed an agreement on the implementation procedures of bilateral airworthiness, making it possible for the C919 to enter the US and the EU markets.

Insiders said that it could take three or four years for the C919 to win airworthiness certification from the CAAC and EASA.

If the C919 is successful, it means the aircraft could tap the African and other Asian markets.

However, the company should have a clear understanding that being granted airworthiness is only the first step, and how to win the market is more important as the single-aisle market is still big enough to have more competitors.