Comac ambiguous about C919 first flight schedule

Comac says development work on its C919 narrowbody is going ahead at full steam, and that it will make an announcement on the aircraft’s first flight schedule towards the end of the year.

The Chinese airframer’s comments come after unsourced media reports said that the first flight of the C919, originally scheduled for end-2015, has been pushed to the first half of 2016. The fact that the manufacturer will only make an announcement about a first flight toward the end of 2015 is a strong indication that it will miss its target timeframe.

In response to queries from Flightglobal, Comac says information in the reports were not confirmed by the company. It adds that work on the aircraft is ongoing, and that an announcement on its first flight will be made at the end of the year, according to the progress on the programme.

News that the C919's first flight would take place beyond the end of 2015 has been around for a while. Flightglobal reported last year that delays to the C919 programme are expected, owing to the company’s nascent abilities with systems integration.

Asked about possible programme delays, Comac has repeatedly said that the company's top priority is to ensure that it builds a safe product.

In March, Comac released pictures showing an almost complete prototype airframe joined from nose through to the tail. Wing-to-body join has also been done, with the vertical and horizontal stabilisers already attached to the aircraft’s tails.

When Flightglobal visited its production facility near Shanghai’s Pudong International airport last month, the aircraft’s tail cone, vertical stabiliser and horizontal stabilisers had been removed so that technicians could examine the drill holes in the structure.

The prototype aircraft also feature passenger windows which are 25% larger than those on the Airbus A320. Comac says subsequent aircraft will see reduced window size, because computer modelling shows that such large windows will not be viable for production aircraft.

No systems had been installed on the airframe.

Comac has been reluctant to set a public target on when it expects the C919 to be certificated and delivered. Sources, however, told Flightglobal last year that the internal official target for certification is end-2017 or 2018, but that a delay is highly expected.

Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database shows that the order book, which comes mainly from Chinese airlines and lessors, has gathered 275 firm orders, 125 letters of intent, and 45 options.