China’s first jet planes to debut without clearance of a US cert
Published 23/10/2015 | 02:30
China's first domestically designed passenger jet will be delivered without US certification, a potential dent to both the aircraft's international credibility and to joint safety efforts by Chinese and US regulators.
The Comac ARJ-21 regional jet, which can seat up to 90 passengers, received the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) type certification last December and is now set to be delivered to launch customer Chengdu Airlines shortly, sources said.
The plane will fly without US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification despite a five-year effort to have the FAA endorse CAAC's certification procedures, the people said.
An FAA-type certificate would have boosted the reputation of the airplane's developer Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac) and cleared the way for global sales. Without it, the aircraft can operate only in China and some Asian, African and South American countries that recognise the CAAC's certificate.
Chengdu Airlines, a low-cost carrier, is expected to fly the plane on commercial domestic operations in the first quarter of 2016. Comac has received nearly 350 orders for the ARJ-21, mainly from Chinese airlines and leasing firms.
Since 2010, the FAA has undertaken a shadow certification process to assess the CAAC's ability to conduct a technical assessment of aircraft. But tensions arose between the two regulators last year over various technical and bureaucratic issues, before the process ended in early 2015, those familiar with the programme said.
People close to Comac believe the FAA also was dragging its feet in part because of bilateral political and economic considerations.
"While the CAAC wanted to learn from the FAA, they felt the Americans were too rigid and unnecessarily delaying things. And the longer the delay, the greater the embarrassment to the Chinese," said one of those individuals.
However, a CAAC official responsible for certification and people close to the FAA stressed that the two regulators were still working to resolve outstanding issues as a "top priority".
In an emailed response for this article, the FAA said the ARJ-21 was never intended to be certificated by the FAA under the shadow evaluation process, and Comac planned a derivative model of the plane to comply with FAA standards.
"The FAA enjoys a good working relationship with CAAC and we continue to work together to develop a path to work towards certification of the derivative model of the ARJ-21 and, possibly, the C919," the FAA said referring to a narrow-body jet China is developing to compete with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 models.
Also, the FAA said it could certify an airplane after it enters service if it can be shown to comply with all relevant airworthiness and manufacturing standards.
Putting the ARJ-21 into service without FAA certification would be a setback to US and China aviation cooperation, arguably one of the outstanding achievements since the two governments re-established diplomatic relations in 1979.
Chinese airlines have bought hundreds of Boeing jets as the country's aviation sector opened up and boomed, and Boeing plans to open a completions and delivery centre in China for its 737 aircraft, its first plant outside the United States.