|AVIC I Commercial
ARJ21Pent-up demand for low-cost regional jets in the Peoples
Republic of China and a treasure trove of tooling left over from a failed
partnership with McDonnell Douglas has convinced AVIC I Commercial Aircraft
Company (ACAC) to launch the development of a pair of 78- to 105-seat
RJs known as the ARJ21. The concept, first unveiled at the 2001 Beijing
Air Show, represents Chinas most comprehensive effort to build
an international supplier base for an indigenous aircraft.
The ARJ21 program partnersa consortium led by government-controlled
AVIC I and in which 15 separate shareholders hold an interesthave
now signed no fewer than 10 major U.S. and European aerospace components
suppliers to contribute to the effort, expected to yield a completed
prototype ready to fly by mid-2006. During Singapores Asian Aerospace
exhibition in late February, ACAC vice president for procurement and
supply Tao Zhihui told AIN that engineers continue to meet all
program development milestones on time, and that by the end of this year,
the company will have released 90 percent of the designs structural
drawings to the various partners.
Major suppliers to the ARJ21 effort include GE Aircraft Engines, which
ACAC has recruited to adapt yet another variant of its CF34 linethe
18,000-pound-thrust CF34-10Afor its rear fuselage-mounted powerplant
requirement. Another U.S. company, Rockwell Collins, has agreed to supply
its Pro Line 21 avionics suite, while Phoenix, Ariz.-based Honeywell
contributes the primary flight controls. Others include Parker Hannifin
(hydraulic and fuel systems), Hamilton Sundstrand (APU and electrical
power system), Kidde (fire suppression system), Liebherr Aerospace (landing
gear and environmental control system), Sagem (cockpit flight control
system), Eaton (cockpit panel assemblies and lighting controls) and Goodrich
(tires and brakes). Despite its ambitions to market the airplane elsewhere
in Asia, ACAC has yet to recruit a supplier from the region outside China.
Looking conspicuously similar to a Douglas DC-9 and sporting the same
3+2 interior seating arrangement, an extended range, baseline-capacity
ARJ21 would carry between 78 and 85 passengers as far as 2,000 nm at
a cruise speed of Mach 0.78. A proposed stretched version, to follow
in a timeframe defined by market interest, would carry between 98 and
105 passengers as far as 1,800 nm, said Tao. The certification program
calls for roughly a year-and-a-half of flight testing with three flying
prototypes and a pair of static ground-test articles.
The ARJ21 will owe much of its design heritage and appearance to a partnership
formed in 1992 between McDonnell Douglas and the China National Aero-Technology
Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) to co-produce MD-90s in China for
the domestic market. A contract revision signed in November 1994 reduced
the number of Chinese-built airplanes in half, to 20, and called for
the direct purchase of another 20 U.S.-built aircraft. By 1998, however,
three years after the U.S. Department of Commerce found that the Chinese
illegally diverted some sophisticated machine tools to military aircraft
factories, only three shipsets of parts had ever arrived at the final
assembly site in Shanghai. Although the Chinese shipped all the tooling
back to Shanghai, it never completed an MD-90.
The four Chinese factories involved in the MD-90 program included the
Shanghai Aviation Industrial Corporation, Xian Aircraft Company, Chengdu
Aircraft Company, and Shenyang Aircraft Companythe very same entities
recruited for the ARJ21. As in the case of the MD-90, the Shanghai facility
has taken responsibility for the horizontal stabilizer and final assembly.
Xian Aircraft, maker of wing sections for the Airbus A320, Boeing 737
and ATR 42/72, would build the airplanes wings and all its fuselage
sections. Chengdu Aircraft, located some 400 miles southwest of Xian,
would build the nose section, while Shenyang Aircraft supplies the empennage.
Scheduled to enter its detailed development phase next month, the ARJ21
would use a supercritical wing designed by Ukraines Antonov. To
speed a decision on the final wing configuration, ACAC has commissioned
four separate wind-tunnel testing regimes, said Tao, under way simultaneously
at Antonov, TsAGI in Russia and at state facilities in Holland and China.
The ACAC official said the government projects a need for as many as
500 airplanes over the course of a 20-year production run, scheduled
to start with CAAC certification at the end of 2007. The partners plan
for a production rate of three per month within one or two years
of then, said Tao. Shanghai, which now employs some 7,000 workers, will
use its MD-90 tooling to assemble the ARJ21.
So far three Chinese customers have signed contracts to take delivery
of a total of 35 airplanes. State-controlled Shandong Airlines, based
in the eastern city of Jinan, has signed for 10 of the airplanes to replace
seven Bombardier CRJ200s and two CRJ700s. Yet another Chinese CRJ operator,
Shanghai Airlines, has ordered five ARJ21s, while the programs
largest customerShenzhen Financial Leasing Companyhas spoken
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