SINGAPORE—Comac said it now is working toward making the first delivery of the C919 airliner in 2021, though the Chinese state company also implied the milestone might come later.

The target represents a one-year slip from an unannounced target of 2020, also with wiggle room, that Comac was aiming for in 2017. First delivery has remained three years away with each annual prediction—in 2016 for 2019, 2017 for 2020 and 2018 for 2021. Comac’s renewed willingness to state a target does, however, suggest rising confidence in the schedule.

The recent prediction is the first public statement of a delivery target since 2014, when the company said it would hand over the first unit to a customer in 2018. A senior program source told Aviation Week in May that the company was striving to deliver in 2020, wording that also implied a risk of missing the target. 

A 2021 first delivery, 13 years after the beginning of full-scale development, would mean the program will be running five years late.

The first of six planned C919 prototypes is flying more than once a week, said Lu Zheng, deputy general manager of sales and marketing. The second prototype made its first flight on Dec. 17.

As for first delivery, “We are trying for 2021,” Lu said, emphasizing “trying.”

Six months after initially taking to the air, the first prototype began the program’s main flight-testing effort in November, when it was transferred to Avic’s facilities at Xian from Shanghai, where Comac is based. The aircraft is flying more than once a week, Lu said at the Singapore Airshow. The second prototype is still based at Shanghai. The timing of first flights for the third to sixth prototypes  hjas not been decided, Lu said.

The C919’s customers are almost all Chinese. But Comac also has export markets in mind. It will first try to sell the C919 in Southeast Asia and Africa, followed by other parts of Asia, then South America and Western Europe, and finally North America, Japan and South Korea, Lu said.

A critical factor for Comac in seeking export sales is EASA acceptance of an application for validating the C919’s Chinese airworthiness certification. The agency began work on the program in 2017. Comac originally hoped for FAA validation of the Chinese type certificate.