CFM International has not changed its testing schedule on the LEAP-1C engine designated to power the C919 even though the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (COMAC) has pushed back first flight of the 150-seat aircraft from 2014 to 2015.
But CFMI EVP Chaker Chahrour conceded to reporters during a briefing at the Singapore Airshow that he has told COMAC “they need more experienced program management” on the C919. “Building an aircraft is not an easy task,” Chahrour said. “They have some difficulty with some suppliers and bringing them all together at the same time.”
He expressed confidence the C919 will “be flying sometime in 2015.” Chahrour, who is CFMI’s direct liaison with COMAC, described the relationship between the GE Aviation/Snecma joint venture engine company and the Chinese aircraft manufacturer as “great.”
Though he added the relationship is of “a different texture than what we’ve got with the two experienced airframers, Boeing and Airbus, but we work well together.” The LEAP-1A engine is an option on the Airbus A320neo and the LEAP-1B is the sole powerplant on the Boeing 737 MAX program.
“You have to work [the C919] program with a different mindset than you do with Boeing and Airbus because of the different level of experience,” Chahrour said.
“COMAC is a young civil aircraft manufacturer,” a COMAC representative told ATW. “But the management capabilities, including suppliers’ management, are improving. The cooperation between COMAC and CFMI is smooth and friendly.”
Asked whether FAA would follow CAAC when, as is expected, the Chinese regulator certifies the aircraft, Chahrour acknowledged, “It’s not smooth sailing between CAAC and FAA in terms of when they’ll come together to certify the plane. I think eventually they’ll get there … It won’t be easy, but they’ll get there.”
COMAC has received 380 orders for the C919, which are mainly from Chinese airlines. Chahrour said CFMI is confident Western airlines will eventually order the C919, but “it is going to require a significant amount of domestic flying” in China before Western carriers are convinced. He added, “Chinese airlines are sophisticated. They’re not going to fly a plane they’re not comfortable with.”
Though CFMI is not delaying the LEAP-1C program—which will actually be the first of the LEAP engines to be flight tested on a flying test bed in May—it will reconsider if there is another delay. “If the flight test [program] is going to slip [again], we obviously have to go back and look at the need and timing to build [flight test] compliance engines,” Chahrour said. “We don’t want to build engines and leave them in the inventory.”
Overall, CFMI is bullish on the Chinese market. “China is a huge player for us,” Chahrour said. “It’s going to be a huge year for [commercial aircraft sales in] China … Perhaps 800-1,000 airplanes [will be ordered by Chinese carriers in 2014, of which 80% will be narrowbodies]. So we’ll spend a lot of time in China this year.”