Comac is working on an upgrade of the ARJ21, which it will implement following the imminent airworthiness certification of the much-delayed regional jet. 

“We have already begun demonstration work and will fully go ahead after the type certificate has been issued,” Comac said. “This [upgrade] will mainly involve reductions in weight and drag. There will also be improvements in the avionics, flight controls and the anti-icing system.”

Launched in 2002,the ARJ21 was to enter service in 2007. During 12 years of development its technology has aged significantly. For example, the ARJ21 is powered by the General Electric CF34-10 engine, which Embraer will replace on its next series of E Jets. 

Comac, however, does not mention the possibility of a new powerplant. 

In its current form as the ARJ21-700, the aircraft is heavier than initially intended, underlining the importance of making it lighter. The upgrade project appears to be taking priority over the long-planned development of a stretched version, the ARJ21-900, which Comac presumably wants to base on an improved standard version.

Comac’s predecessor, Avic Commercial Aircraft, said in 2007 that the ARJ21-900 would include more composite—that may be a clue to the changes intended for the upgraded ARJ21-700.

The ARJ21-700 seats 90 passengers in an all-economy cabin arrangement. The ARJ21-900 would seat 115, meaning it would be stretched to fit three additional rows of five-abreast seats. 

The ARJ21 is due for certification late this year. Comac is standing by this target—the latest of many—and has shown confidence in the current schedule by ordering 10 airframes be produced.