Maiden flight delay for home-built jet

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 February, 2007, 12:00am

The maiden flight of a new regional jet that Beijing has touted as being domestically made will take place in March next year, later than previously announced, a report said yesterday.

The Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory would start final assembly of the ARJ-21 - the Advanced Regional Jet for the 21st Century - next month and finish by the end of the year, the Wen Hui Daily said.

Previous state media reports had said the maiden flight was expected late last year. The newspaper did not give any reason for the delay and the manufacturer, the China Aviation Industry Corp I (AVIC I), could not be reached for comment over the Lunar New Year holiday.

Beijing says it is building the plane to meet booming air passenger demand and reduce reliance on foreign aircraft companies. AVIC I aimed to eventually produce 50 of the regional jets a year, though only 30 in the initial phase, the report said, but gave no time frame.

The government claims the plane uses China's own intellectual property, with the country and manufacturer undertaking assembly, testing and payment for the project.

However, foreign companies will take part, despite the government's hopes of sourcing most materials and components domestically. GE Aircraft Engines signed a formal contract with AVIC I in 2003 to provide the engines for the plane, according to a news release issued at the time.

Other foreign companies will supply the air management, electrical power, airborne and hydraulic systems for the ARJ-21, according to a report by UK Trade & Investment, a British government organisation.

The Shanghai Aircraft Manufacturing Factory was making tail components, the centre and rear of the fuselage and the elevator, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, other AVIC I factories in the cities of Xian and Chengdu would make the front section of the fuselage and the nose.

The plane is expected to have about 70 seats. China has invested at least 5 billion yuan in the project.

AVIC I has said it already has orders, though some industry analysts have raised questions about whether the project will be a commercial success.