Chinese state-owned aerospace manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) has obtained airworthiness approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) for its ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter (P2F) conversion program.
The Chinese airframer has been working on the freighter conversion program of the ARJ21 since May 2020. After the preliminary design, detailed design, modification, and implementation, COMAC says it completed a compliance verification test flight and an airworthiness compliance report in December. The CAAC approved the program on January 1.
Under the new program, COMAC will attempt to become the first choice for airlines operating in the regional Chinese air cargo market. While the company has not specified when the first ARJ21 narrow-body jet will be converted into a cargo aircraft, two local airlines, YTO Cargo Airlines and Zhongyuan Airlines have already expressed an interest in the freighter.
According to the manufacturer’s statement released on January 6, 2023, the converted ARJ21 will be able to fly up to 10 tons (more than 22,04 lbs.) of air freight containers meeting different standard sizes such as PMC, PAG, and AKE.
The cargo jet will feature a full electric freight loading system, which will allow a customer to load goods via the main cargo door. The plane will also be equipped with an advanced warning system for fire prevention as well as a modern air-conditioning system, COMAC added.
The event acknowledged the important roles of CCP ideology and the “ardent enthusiasm” of Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the country’s pursuit of developing commercial aircraft, such as the ARJ21 and C919.
In a speech at the event, Civil Aviation Authority of China official Shen Xiaoming offered his views on Comac’s objectives: “In 2023, we must follow the spirit of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, unswervingly implement the large aircraft strategy, resolutely implement the important instructions of General Secretary Xi Jinping, and deeply understand the mission and responsibility I have undertaken in the large aircraft business…insisting on safety first and quality first.”
First rolled out in December 2007, the ARJ21 jet was granted its type certificate by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in December 2014.
The regional jet looks similar to the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 single-aisle airliner and features a 25-degree swept supercritical wing designed by Antonov as well as twin rear-mounted General Electric CF34 engines. However, COMAC claims that the plane design is a completely independent intellectual property of China.
With a range of 3,700 kilometres (around 2,299 miles), the ARJ21-700 regional jet is a baseline aircraft model with a seating capacity for up to 95 passengers onboard. But COMAC is also developing the longer -900 variant, which is expected to be capable of flying between 95 and 105 travellers in a two-class seating configuration.
The manufacturer plans to expand the ARJ21 family with two additional ARJ21 variants: an ARJ21F freighter version and an ARJ21B business jet. The dedicated ARJJ21 business jet is expected to serve as a small executive jet for 20 passengers onboard.
According to COMAC, almost 100 ARJ21-700s have been delivered as of December 2022.
According to the production list, 108 ARJ21s have been built since 2007. They are in service with the Big Three Air China, China Southern, OTT/China Eastern, Chengdu Airlines, and a few smaller airlines. The oldest aircraft in active service with Chengdu is just over eight years old, but some unspecified aircraft are eligible for passenger-to-freighter conversions. Chengdu Airlines has been operating the type on numerous cargo-only flights since the start of the pandemic in 2020