SINGAPORE - The maiden flight of China's only home-grown commercial jet, the Comac C-919, is behind schedule and delivery could be pushed back as much as two years, sources familiar with the programme said.
The narrow-body aircraft, which will be able to carry between 156 and 168 passengers and aims to compete with the Airbus A-320 and Boeing 737, was originally scheduled to fly by the end of this year, but two sources said it would be delayed to the first half of next year.
Delivery of the first plane, scheduled for 2018, is likely to slip, perhaps to as late as 2020, the sources added.
That means the C-919 will be technologically inferior and later than the re-engined and improved variants of the 737 and A-320 that will enter service in the next two years.
State-owned Comac, which is leading the design, development and production efforts of the C-919, declined to comment.
China has high hopes for the C-919 in the lucrative narrow-body jet market, which accounts for more than half of aircraft in service.
The final assembly of the first aircraft is taking longer than expected at the production facility in Shanghai, said the sources.
"Comac is proceeding extremely cautiously with the first aircraft. It is deliberately checking everything... to ensure that there are no safety issues," one source said.
Comac has commitments for 450 C-919s, mainly from Chinese airlines and leasing firms backed by Chinese banks and financial institutions.
Further delays will make it harder for the plane to make an impact beyond its home market.