China's first passenger jet, the 90-seat ARJ21, is unlikely to get regulatory approval before 2013, an executive of its producer said on Thursday, putting it about five years behind its makers' original schedule to win certification.
The delay could also disrupt the completion of a more ambitious effort to develop a 168-seat C919 jet aimed at breaking the global dominance of similar-sized aircraft by Airbus and Boeing.
Tian Min, chief financial officer of the state-controlled Commercial Aircraft of China, or Comac, which is developing both aircraft, said a final certification of the ARJ21 by Chinese regulators has been pushed back to 2013 from an original schedule for completion by 2008.
Tian, speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Beijing, declined to go into details when asked the reason for the delay, simply saying: "It is a process."
The ARJ21 is a regional jet with a range of about 2,000 miles aimed at midsize markets.
Industry insiders - including executives of technology suppliers to Comac - said any delay in the ARJ21 would likely disrupt the C919 as well.
But Tian said the bigger aircraft was on track for a 2014 maiden flight and should get airworthiness approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, or CAAC, as scheduled by 2016.
Tian's comments follow an announcement by Comac in February of a new round of airworthiness tests for the ARJ21, which Comac designed to compete with Canada's Bombardier and Embraer of Brazil.
Comac said on February 29 that the first CAAC certification flight test took place that day. It said a version of the jet, the ARJ21-700, "piloted jointly by a COMAC pilot and a CAAC pilot, successfully landed after nearly two-hour flight".
The successful test flight "indicates that the CAAC certification flight tests for the first indigenously developed jet have formally kicked off, and the ARJ21-700 aircraft certification process also entered into a new phase", it said.
The ARJ21 is key to China's bid to develop an aerospace industry that can compete globally.
By starting with a smaller jet, China will stay out of the competitive sights of Boeing and Airbus for now, but will enter a market crowded with established players as well as recent entrants from Russia and Japan.