China's Comac aims for first C919 flight by early 2017: sources

Tue Feb 23, 2016 5:54am EST
 
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By Siva Govindasamy

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd (Comac) aims to conduct the first flight of its much-delayed C919 passenger jet around the end of 2016 to early 2017, people close to the aircraft programme told Reuters.

The timing will allow engineers at the state-owned aerospace company to complete ground tests beforehand without undue haste, said the people, who were not authorized to speak with media on the matter and so declined to be identified.

Comac's C919 represents China's attempt to challenge Airbus Group SE (AIR.PA: Quote) and Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) in the market for narrow-body aircraft. It is scheduled to reach its first buyers in 2018 after a series of production delays pushed deliveries back four years, though industry observers expect delays into the 2020s.

The company unveiled the airplane in November and said it had received 517 orders, mainly from Chinese lessors. However, the plane will not be airborne until around a year after its unveiling while Comac conducts ground tests.

"This will allow them to go through the tests gradually, and iron out as many kinks as possible in the aircraft's structure and design," said one of the people who is in regular contact with Comac officials.

"Their executives keep emphasizing that they would rather the aircraft be late than unsafe."

Officials at Shanghai-based Comac, which oversees the plane's development and production, declined to comment.

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Visitors walk past a model of the C919 aircraft, presented by Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China,Ltd. (COMAC) during the 49th Paris Air Show at the Le Bourget airport near Paris, in this file photo dated June 20, 2011. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol