AWA close to ordering Comac’s ARJ21 regional jet

Chinese planemaker Comac is nearing an order from an airline in Ghana, a rare advance overseas for the state-owned company as it attempts to become a real challenger to Boeing and Airbus.

Africa World Airlines, partly owned by China’s HNA Group may agree this month to buy two Comac ARJ21 regional jets, the carrier’s chief executive officer, John Quan, said in an interview.

Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) is part of China’s bid to build an aerospace industry from scratch — and gain more international clout. But so far, its orders have mostly been limited to domestic buyers such as China’s state-owned carriers and HNA.

“Our Chinese shareholders are very keen to introduce the aircraft to boost China-Africa trade relations,” said Quan. Comac executives will be in Ghana’s capital Accra, where AWA is based, in late March to possibly sign a memorandum of understanding with the airline, he said.

A Comac representative said the company isn’t aware of any imminent ARJ21 order from AWA but referred to an earlier agreement with HNA that the Chinese conglomerate plans to operate 100 of the planes in the future. HNA couldn’t immediately comment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government, as part of his Belt & Road Initiative, has been helping African governments build airports and other infrastructure. Offering low-cost Chinese-made planes is part of that strategy, said Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics in Malaysia.

With about 80 to 90 seats, Comac’s ARJ21 competes with ERJ planes made by Embraer, the Brazilian company forming a partnership with Boeing, and the A220, designed by Bombardier but marketed by Airbus. The Republic of Congo ordered three ARJ21s in 2014, and AWA is just one of the African airlines now being targeted.

Comac is also building the C919, a narrow-body passenger plane that will compete with Boeing’s 737 Max and the Airbus A320neo. Any African breakthrough would come as Boeing grapples with the worldwide grounding of the Max, the company’s fastest-selling plane, after two disasters involving the model in five months.

China is pushing for jetliner orders from a number of other African countries.

South China Morning Post