ARJ-21 is coming!

And who cares?

China is and its very own aircraft manufacturer, COMAC, says it is about to deliver the first ARJ-21 aircraft to customers.

I suspect the customers cringed at the idea of having to take delivery.

The ARJ-21, for those of you who don’t know, is China’s attempt at a regional jet.  To be fair, the aircraft has a lot of US content in it in the form of avionics from Honeywell and Rockwell Collins as well as a GE engine (the CF34 used by many regional jets and which is being replaced with Pratt & Whitney GTF engines by other regional jet manufacturers.)

Nominally, the aircraft is designed to compete in the 70 to 100 seat class also known as Embraer and Bombardier country.  It won’t.

The airliner, despite China’s protestations to the contrary, is a copy of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series aircraft that was assembled in China as the MD-90 for a brief while.  Admittedly, Chinese MD-90s are reportedly just as good as any other but they were also made from kits.  It even will share the 5-abreast seating the DC-9/MD-80 series had.

It does have some new bits:  the airliner got a new wing courtesy of Antonov and “fly by wire” courtesy of Honeywell.  But if you think the latest generation of intellectual property was given to China for this airliner, you would be wrong.

The only companies who have ordered this airliner are Chinese airlines, Chinese lessors, an Indonesian airline, a Myanmar airline and GECAS.  I’m betting GECAS ordered its token 5 to keep doing business in China.

I’m somewhat surprised that North Korea or Cuba or Iran hasn’t ordered one.

I’m pretty sure the Myanmar order is political as this airline (Myanma Airways) also recently made a much more real order with GECAS for 6 Boeing 737-800 and 4 Boeing 737-MAX8 aircraft.  It already is leasing the Embraer 190AR.  One suspects that China felt it needed some “international” orders and went out and strongarmed a couple.

The Indonesian airline, Merpati Nusantara Airlines, does operate a Chinese airliner.  It operates the AVIC MA-60 which is a kind of revised Antonov which kind of looks like an ATR-42 turbo-prop.  This airline also has some old 737 aircraft.  Given what we know about the state of airlines in Indonesia, I think we can assume that this airline has ordered what it did simply because it couldn’t get airliners from anyone else.

Still, the ARJ-21 is important if for only one reason:  It’s a very educational exercise for China who will use it to build the also inferior COMAC C919.  The so called Boeing/Airbus competitor that China is already late on as well.

China won’t build a competitive airliner in this decade.  It probably won’t build one in the next decade either.  You can bet that if they stick with it, they will be building a competitive airliner in the decade after that.  The one thing that the ARJ-21 does signal is that China is serious about figuring out how to capture that aviation market which is theirs and a piece of the global market as well.


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