SYDNEY—China’s first indigenously designed airliner, the Comac ARJ21-700 regional jet, was granted a type certificate by the country’s civil aviation authority.

Certification of the aircraft follows more than 12 years of development, including six in flight testing, and comes four decades after China began its first attempt at producing a commercial jet aircraft.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued the type certificate under Chapter 25 of the Chinese civil aviation regulations on Dec. 30. Comac, announcing the certification, says the CAAC is now examining the first aircraft intended for delivery to a customer. That customer will be Chengdu Airlines, which belongs to Comac and will help the manufacturer learn to support the type in service. Early this year, entry into service was due in April or May 2015.

ARJ21 certification work began in 2003, the year after the program was launched. At the time, the Chinese government put little emphasis on civil aeronautics, so the ARJ21 enjoyed only modest funding. The Shanghai facilities of Avic, responsible for the program, had previously handled Chinese production of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, the design of which was referred to, but not fully copied, by the ARJ21’s developers.

Six years after the ARJ21 was launched, the Shanghai works was folded into Comac, which was split off from Avic and given strong state backing to develop the C919 158-seat airliner, now due to enter service in 2018. 

The ARJ21-700 seats 90 passengers in an all-economy cabin arrangement. A second version, the ARJ21-900 is intended to seat 115. Comac is working on improvements to the type

China attempted to develop a commercial aircraft in the 1970s, but that program, the Y-10, was abandoned in the 1980s. One of the Y-10 prototypes still stands in the grounds of Comac’s original Shanghai factory, behind a sign that reads in English and Chinese “Never give up.”

Before the ARJ21, the only production Chinese airliner was the Y-7, a copy of the Antonov An-24 that Avic now builds in updated versions called MA60 and MA600.

Avic is developing the MA700 turboprop airliner as a larger successor to the Y-7.