China's first indigenous passenger jet completes maiden flight

Tammy Harvey
May 7, 2017

China's first large homemade passenger jetliner is due to make its maiden flight from Shanghai later Friday, May 5, 2017.

The C919, a twin-engine airliner created to compete with the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737, took off from Shanghai's Pudong global airport in the early hours of Friday.

But Beijing is already looking beyond the C919, with plans to develop a wide-body long-haul jet with Russian Federation.

"Over the very long term COMAC is likely to become a major player in the airline segment", said Douglas Royce, senior aerospace analyst at Forecast International, an aerospace market research firm in the United States.

COMAC's already built a regional jet, the 90-to-100-seat ARJ21. With China's aviation market growing rapidly as a rising middle class travels more for leisure and business, the C919 aircraft is also expected to eventually take market share from Boeing and Airbus in the lucrative narrow-body market, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the aircraft in service worldwide.

The successful flight of the indigenously-made aircraft made China the world's fourth jumbo jet producer after the US, Europe, and Russian Federation, the state media reported. "This is one step in that direction". China hopes, in the course of time, to convert the current global airliner duopoly of Airbus and Boeing into a triumvirate, by making Comac a major manufacturer as well.

Comac says it has 570 orders from 23 domestic and foreign customers, with most from state-owned Chinese airlines. "It can not be ignored", he said. The jet may yet have to undergo years of tests to get certified in China, not to mention the U.S. and Europe.

The European Aviation Safety Agency has started the certification process for the C919 - a crucial step for the aircraft to be successful on the worldwide market. "I believe that in the not too distant future, we will be neck-and-neck with Boeing and Airbus". Second, "the ability of COMAC to probably innovate fast and shake up what we see as a cycle here in North America".

"It is important for the Chinese government to show that its industrial processes are on par with the West or are heading in that direction", he said.

Xinhua correspondents Ma Dan in San Francisco, and Lin Xiaochun in Washington contributed to the story.

Comac itself functions as the main vehicle in implementing large passenger aircraft programs in China.

However, according to commentators, the programme was years, if not decades behind aircraft made by Airbus and Boeing that were cheaper to fuel and easier to maintain.

While C919 is a home-grown aircraft, it has been dependent on foreign technology. Boeing anticipates the country will need $1 trillion worth of planes- more than 6,800 of them-in the twenty years through 2036.

By the end of 2016, 21 customers had placed orders for more than 500 C919 aircraft, and COMAC expects to sell at least 2,000.

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