China's big three airlines take delivery of domestically made ARJ21 aircraft

FILE PHOTO: A model of China's ARJ21 aircraft by Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd (COMAC) is displayed at Aviation Expo China 2017 in Beijing, China September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s three biggest state-owned airlines on Sunday took delivery of their first ARJ21 aircraft, a short haul 90-seater aircraft made by state-run Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC).

COMAC said in a statement on Sunday that Air China Ltd 601111.SS, China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd 600115.SS and China Southern Airlines Co Ltd 600029.SS had received the aircraft, which has a 90-seat capacity, and would each take delivery of three ARJ21 aircraft this year.

Last August, the three carriers announced on the same day deals to each purchase 35 ARJ21-700 regional jets from COMAC, with deliveries scheduled from 2020 through 2024.

The ARJ21 entered commercial operations four years ago and is China’s first domestically manufactured airliner.

COMAC has two other passenger jet programmes in development - the C919 narrowbody aircraft programme which is currently undergoing flight testing, and the CR929 widebody programme in collaboration with Russia.

China Eastern Airlines earlier this year launched a subsidiary - OTT Airlines - to operate ARJ21 and C919 airliners. It is slated to be the first customer for the C919, once the 160-seater plane receives airworthiness certification from the Chinese aviation regulator.

The C919 is a much more high-profile programme, that will place COMAC in direct competition with Airbus AIR.PA and Boeing BA.N in the single-aisle market. The United States earlier this year considered whether or not to block the sales of LEAP-1C engines to the programme, but it later relented.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on international travel has decimated the order books of both Airbus and Boeing.

Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing, Emily Chow and Samuel Shen in Shanghai; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore