EASA’s Cautious Approach to Approving China’s C919 Passenger Jet

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will not rush the approval process for China's C919 passenger jet, according to its top official. This news may disappoint Beijing, which is eager to penetrate a market currently experiencing a shortage of jets and a safety crisis with Boeing. Despite China's increased regulatory efforts to gain international support for its new jet, industry insiders caution that obtaining crucial approvals from Western regulators could be a lengthy process. The COMAC C919, a narrow-body jet built to rival the top-selling models from leading manufacturers Airbus and Boeing, began operations in China last May after receiving domestic safety certification in 2022. Luc Tytgat, the acting executive director of EASA, revealed that COMAC initially sought European approval in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted progress. The request was revived in November, with a completion target of 2026.


Tytgat admitted in an interview at EASA's Cologne headquarters that he is unsure if they can meet this deadline as the aircraft is still relatively new to them. He also mentioned that since 2019, developments have continued in China, and they now need to be updated on these changes. These remarks follow the recent showcase of the C919 by China's state-owned aircraft manufacturer at the Singapore Airshow. The jet is being marketed as a fresh alternative at a time when Airbus' waiting lists are full, and Boeing is dealing with quality issues related to its 737 MAX. For COMAC to secure significant export contracts, it needs to earn the widespread approval of its design from foreign regulators, including EASA and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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As per an agreement between the EU and China signed in 2019, European regulators must decide whether to validate China's certification of the jet to ensure that any imports comply with their safety standards. Without this validation, the C919 cannot operate in Europe. Tytgat indicated that EASA is currently in the "technical familiarization" phase, which experts suggest is the initial part of a certification process that could extend over five years or more. The certification of aircraft has been tightened by Western regulators following fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX in 2018 and 2019, which revealed design and oversight deficiencies. The scrutiny is expected to be particularly rigorous for the first jet from a new manufacturer. While Irish budget airline Ryanair has previously expressed interest in the Chinese jet, Tytgat stated that no European airline has urged EASA to expedite the certification process to facilitate an order.

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In January, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) announced plans to promote the C919 internationally in 2024. Official reports suggest that CAAC will strive to gain European recognition for the aircraft this year, although the specifics of this plan have not been disclosed. Neither China's regulator nor its aircraft manufacturer responded immediately to requests for comment. After its debut at the Singapore Airshow, COMAC embarked on a promotional tour of East Asia with its aircraft, visiting Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia to meet with airline and government officials. The final stop was Malaysia, where the planes arrived on Tuesday.

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