January, 2022 - Modern Airliners

First International Sale of the COMAC ARJ21 Regional Jet

COMAC ARJ-21 in COMAC colours.

The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC) has for the first time inked a deal to sell one of its aircraft to an airline outside of China. This is a major milestone and reinforces the fact that China is becoming a very relevant force in the airliner manufacturing space. To date, the COMAC ARJ21 regional jet has been sold and operated exclusively on China’s domestic networks by airlines such as Chengdu Airlines (launch customer), OTT Airlines (Subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines), China Express Airlines, China Southern Airlines, China Flight General Aviation Company (CFGAC), Genghis Khan Airlines and Jiangxi Air.

Who is the international lauch customer of the COMAC ARJ21 Regional Jet?

Indonesia’s PT TransNusa Aviation Mandiri, more simply known as TransNusa is a regional domestic airline with routes concentrated in the eastern part of the country. It is based in Kupang on the island of Timor and services destinations in Nusa Tenggara, Timor and South Sulawesi. TransNusa was inaugurated in August 2005 using aircraft chartered from Pelita Air and Trigana Air Service and gained its own operator licence in August 2011.

TranNusa started operations with destinations in South Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Timor.
TranNusa started operations with destinations in South Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Timor.

Throughout its life, TranNusa has forged various business partnerships with other operators, acting as a feeder airline for other carriers as well as leasing or block buying seats on carriers such as Aviastar, Indonesia Air Transport, Sriwijaya Air and Riau Airlines. Aircraft operated by TransNusa include Fokker 28s, Fokker 50s, ATR 42-300s. These aircraft were leased from Trigana, Pelita Air and Riau Airlines.

F-WWLX ATR42-512(600) TransNusa Airways 22SEP14
TransNusa has operated various aircraft including this ATR-600.

Over the period 2017 – 18, TransNusa bought four new aircraft of their own, three ATR 72-600s and an ATR 42-500. By 2019 the airline boasted a fleet of 1 BAe 146 and 7 ATRs with 3 ATRs about to be delivered. Things were looking good for TransNusa with various safety awards having been achieved. Then Covid hit.

Like most places in the world, Covid changed travel in Indonesia. As a result, TransNusa decided to temporarily cease operations in September 2020 and returned aircraft to their lessors.

A restart for TransNusa.

In November 2021, TransNusa announced it was coming back. This time the airline would reinvent itself as a Low-Cost Carrier (LCC) with a restart set for February 2022. A recent investment in the airline by China Aircraft Leasing Company (CALC) to the tune of 35.68% has been responsible for the change in strategy. No doubt this change is also responsible for the decision to lease 30 ARJ21s.

What is the COMAC ARJ21 Regional Jet?

The Comac ARJ21 Xiangfeng (Chinese for Rising Phoenix), is a twin-jet airliner with engines mounted on each side of the rear fuselage. The ARJ21 (Advanced Regional Jet) began development in March 2002 with the first prototype rolling out on 21 December 2007. CAAC type certification was achieved on 30 December 2014. The project for various reasons fell behind and certification was eventually 8 years behind target. Testing in cold climate and ice conditions were actually conducted in North America with many of the proving flights conducted around the world.

Chengdu Airlines COMAC ARJ21 Regional Jet Xiangfeng
Chengdu Airlines was the launch customer of the COMAC ARJ21.

The ARJ21 does depend heavily on imported technology and parts, such as engines by General Electric and the wing designed by Antonov of Ukraine. China maintains that the design has been done completely in China by supercomputers, however, there are those who are keen to point out the similarities with the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 and MD-90. The MD-80 and MD-90 were licenced to be built in China, and tooling for those airframes was left in China.

Chengdu Airlines was the first to receive the ARJ21 and took delivery on 29 November 2015. They commenced commercial services on 28 June 2016 with a flight from Chengdu Shuangliu Airport to Shanghai.

Mass assembly of the ARJ21 will enable 30 units to be produced per year and is located in the same facility as the COMAC C919 production plant in Pudong, Shanghai.

ARJ21 Specs

Type ARJ21-700 ARJ21-900
First Flight 28 November 2008 TBA
Crew 2
Passengers One class 90
Two class 78
One class 105
Two class 98
Cabin Width(Internal) 3.14 Meters (10 feet 4 inches)
Cabin Ceiling Height 2.03 metres (6 feet 8 inches)
Aircraft Length 33.46 metres(109 feet 9 inches) 36.35 metres (119 feet 3 iinches)
Main Wing Span 27.28 metres (89 feet 6 inches)
Main Wing Area 79.86 square metres(859.6 square feet)
Main Wing Sweep back 25 degrees
MTOW 40,500 Kg (89,300 lb) Standard
43,500 Kg (95,900 lb) Extended Range
43,616 Kg (96,157 lb) Standard
47,182 Kg (104,019 lb) Extended Range
OEW 24,955 kg (55,016 lb) 26,270 Kg (57,920 lb) Standard
26,770 Kg (59,020 lb) Extended Range
Cargo Capacity 120.14 cubic metres (711 cubic feet) TBA
Takeoff Dist. 1,700 metres (5,600 feet) Standard
1,900 metres (6,200 feet) Extended Range
1,750 metres (5,740 feet) Standard
1,950 metres (6,400 feet) Extended Range
Fuel Capacity 10,386 Kg (22,897 lb) TBA
Engines x 2 General Electric CF34-10A
Engine Thrust x 2 75.87 kN (17,057 lbf) 82 kN (18,500 lbf)
Speed (Cruise) Mach 0.78 (828 kph, 447 kn, 514 mph)
Speed (Maximum) Mach 0.82 (870 kph, 470 kn, 541 mph)
Service Ceiling 11,900 metres (39,000 feet)
Range 1,200 NM (2,200km, 1,400 Miles) Standard
2,000 nm (3,700 km, 2,300 miles) Extended Range
1,200 NM (2,200km, 1,400 Miles) Standard
1,800 nm (3,300 km, 2,100 miles) Extended Range

The TransNusa Deal

The ARJ21 deal calls for 30 aircraft to be delivered with an option for 30 more in the future. The delivery of February 2022 looks like it might be on time, as an ARJ 21 in TransNusa colours has been seen at Shanghai’s Pudong airport. This is an important step for COMAC as it can now show that their aircraft are relevant in the non-Chinese market as well.

Do you know any more? Please free to comment below, we value our reader’s input.

The last Airbus A380 flies the nest.

Emirates Airbus A380-861

And just like that the dream is over. On 16 December 2021, a grey Hamburg evening, the last ever Airbus A380 Super Jumbo lifted off, did a circuit of the city and flew east to its new home. What began as the next big thing in aviation, the Airbus A380 fell well short of expectations for European plane-maker, Airbus. The last Airbus A380 brought the total deliveries of this airliner to 250, well short of the 1,000 that Airbus had envisaged in the planning stage.

Singapore was the launch customer for the A380 back in October 2007.
Singapore was the launch customer for the A380 back in October 2007, with the first route being between Singapore and Sydney. It was an exciting time in air travel with the future looking assured for this new arrival. Little did we know.

So what happened? How did Airbus get it so wrong? Well, perhaps it wasn’t a matter of getting it so wrong so much as coming in late. When the first A380 was rolled out in front of dignitaries to huge fanfare in 2005, it was already 2 years late. Other technologies had also been progressing and there was a ground swell toward the new more economical twins jets like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner followed by the Airbus A350.

A matter of succession.

Over the last decades, go to any international airport and you would be greeted by the iconic tails of Boeing 747s poking up into the sky. The 747, Queen of Skies, had been the very symbol of international travel for decades. The design of the 747 hadn’t changed for quite some time and I’m sure that Airbus saw this as an opportunity to fill this niche of the market with a brand new updated very large passenger transport aircraft. What they couldn’t have foreseen is the demise, or at least shrinkage of that sector of the market.

Airbus A380 tails at London Heathrow. These became as common a sight as the Boeing 747.
Airbus A380 tails of Emirates, QANTAS and Singapore Airlines at London’s Heathrow Airport. It looked very much like the common sight of giant Boeing 747 tails adorning international terminals would be replaced by those of Airbus. Unfortunately it seems that the A380 will never reach that level of market penetration.

The Airbus A380 is very popular with passengers and many will arrange their travel plans to ensure they get to ride on it. For airline bean counters, not so much. Airlines were finding that the new twin jets were more economical on all but the very busiest routes. They were also more eco friendly, so opting for these just made more sense. The big shake up really came when Covid-19 reared it’s ugly head. Countries closed borders and travel came to a standstill. Airlines sent their aircraft to desert or other storage facilities with little knowledge of if or when they would ever be used again. For some, it was the end of the road. Airlines like Lufthansa and Air France retired their A380 fleet.

So who got the last A380?

So back to the Hamburg sky. Where in the east was the last A380 going?

There is one airline which has put great faith in the A380. Emirates Airlines of Dubai is by far the largest customer of the A380 and aircraft registration A6-EVS was on its way to Dubai to become the 129th A380 in the Emirates fleet.

Tim Clark of Emirates firmly believes that the popularity of the A380 with passengers will carry it well into the future. Considering that much of the Emirates network is medium to long haul, perhaps the economics of the A380 still stacks up. One thing you can count on is that you will still be able to fly on an A380 for many years to come.

Lufthansa Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8
Lufthansa took an each way bet with their choice of giant passenger transport, buying both the Airbus A380 as well as the Boeing 747-8i. Boeing have also had little success with the 747i which is the passenger version, the cargo version, the 747-8F, however, had better success. This all due to an each way bet by Boeing at creation of the original 747.

What of the huge assembly buildings in Toulouse, France? Now the assembly line has fallen silent, Airbus has plans to use some the space for assembly of their narrow body aircraft. With new orders coming in, such as the one from QANTAS, it is hoped that workers will be redeployed for the most part.