China’s COMAC ARJ21 passenger-to-freighter conversion program given green light

COMAC ARJ21 regional jet
Peng Chen / Wikimedia Commons

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.

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 domestically built ARJ21 jet family

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 kilometers (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 travelers 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.

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