Crowds cheer as first Chinese-made passenger plane makes maiden flight

Owen Stevens
May 6, 2017

The takeoff of the C919 brought cheers and applause from hundreds of invited guests at Shanghai Pudong International Airport and was broadcast live on Chinese state television.

After the one-and-a-half hour flight, the test pilots came smiling from the plane, wearing orange overalls with the Chinese flag.

China's first large homemade passenger jet, touted as a competitor to Boeing and Airbus, made its maiden flight from Shanghai on Friday, signalling the Communist country's entry into the global aviation industry.

The narrow-body 158-seater aircraft, which will compete with Boeing's 737 and the Airbus A320, is a key symbol of China's ambitions to muscle into a global jet market estimated to be worth United States dollars 2 trillion over the next 20 years.

The plane will be able to carry between 158-168 passengers, depending on seating layout, and is constructed mainly from aluminium.

COMAC has received 570 orders from 23 foreign and domestic customers, including from China's national carrier Air China and leasing company GE Capital Aviation Service.

The plane can be configured with 155-175 seats and has a standard flight length of 4,075 kilometers (2,530 miles).

The government says the ability to build and fly a modern passenger plane would be the "pearl" and "flower" of modern manufacturing, a centerpiece of the government's "Made in China 2025" industrial plan that also includes ambitions to develop world-class robotics, advanced information technology, medicines and hi-tech transport industries.

China will need 5,110 new single-aisle airplanes through 2035, accounting for 75 percent of the total new deliveries, according to Boeing. Comac also relies on global technology from firms such as General Electric, Safran and Honeywell worldwide.

The flight marks the culmination of a successful collaboration between Safran and China. Failing to win FAA certification would restrict the sale of the aircraft to only domestic market and certain regional clients.

The successful flight moves China one step closer to transforming itself from a manufacturer of low-priced goods to a creator of advanced technology. COMAC said at the time it had been aiming for first flight in 2016.

"If achieved, I think it will greatly enhance the accessible market of C919", he said.

Airbus delivered 153 aircraft to Chinese operators previous year, while Boeing provided 160.

The statistic is a good reminder that developing an aviation industry takes many decades. "They've already said that they've gotten more than 500 orders for planes".

China's home-grown narrow bodied passenger plane took to the skies on Friday, announcing Beijing's bid to acquire some elbow room in an aviation market, which has so far been dominated by giants Boeing and Airbus. That smaller jet is a rival to aircraft made by Bombardier Inc. of Canada and Brazil's Embraer SA.

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