The C919 large aircraft, as well as the ARJ21 regional jet, is expected to accomplish industrialization in 2020.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People's Republic of China (MIIT) on May 23 released the Civil Aviation Industry Medium and Long-Term Development Plan identifying the development goals of China's civil aviation industry in 2020, of which the biggest concern is the industrialization of a number of key products including the C919 large passenger aircraft, the turbofan-powered ARJ21 regional jet, the turboprop-powered MA regional aircraft, etc.
However, the industrialization statement led to a lot of controversy and puzzle in the industry. Zhou Jisheng, a former deputy chief designer of the ARJ21, said on May 23 that the C919, as well as the ARJ21, is regarded to be in the project phase at present, and will enter the production phase a few years later, but hardly to accomplish industrialization.
"The project products, in the process of research and development, are temporary, and to be further detailed", said Zhou, "and intense market competition makes it hard to put them into mass production."
As of the end of 2012, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) has received a total of 380 orders for the C919 following the 50 orders at last year's Zhuhai Airshow.
In stark contrast, currently the number of orders for Boeing 737MAX and Airbus A320neo, the C919's direct competitors, has respectively reached 1,315 and 2,125.
According to the industry insiders, Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier, etc. have already held absolutely dominant position in mainline and regional passenger aircraft market, especially the duopoly Boeing and Airbus have been eyeing up
One program manager later acknowledged that Comac simply was inexperienced in that process, despite having gone through it about six years earlier with its ARJ21 regional jet.
Industry sources close to the program remain skeptical about the new target; suppliers also are known to be expecting first deliveries in 2018, not 2016.
A strong sign that things were not going well emerged in April when it was revealed that Comac had switched the material for the center wing box, the structural heart of the aircraft, from carbon-fiber composite to aluminum.
Industry sources at the time said the change was made because the manufacturer saw too much risk in building the composite part. Another industry source now says that the problem was that the composite center wing box, built with foreign help, would have cost too much.
To some extent Comac was ready for the change, because early in its program it decided to develop aluminum alternatives to composite parts.
Development of the aluminum center wing box should have been well advanced when the decision to use it was made.