Made-in-China jet takes off

Jay Anderson
May 18, 2017

Spectators take photos as they watch the COMAC C919, China's first large passenger jet, coming in for a landing on its maiden flight at Shanghai's Pudong airport on May 5.

The Chinese state company has already set up a joint venture with Russia's United Aircraft Corporation to develop a longer-haul passenger jet.

Just after 06:00 GMT, the first C919 rolled down and off a runway at Shanghai Pudong airport, to the sounds of applause of onlookers and plenty of senior officials who showed up to celebrate a milestone for Chinese industry.It touched down 75 minutes later after a successful flight.

"The significance is huge, it's the first ever large-frame aircraft made in China", said Xiong Yuexi, a professor and plane design expert at Beihang University in Beijing.

The aircraft, Comac's C919, has 158 seats, and is designed for medium range flights. COMAC reports that it has 570 orders from 23 customers for the C919, but the aircraft will have to undergo years of testing before it is certified in China and internationally.

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But production issues have delayed this test flight at least twice since 2014 and it is still years away from challenging Europe's Airbus and US-based Boeing.

According to Airbus' 2016-2035 Global Market Forecast, Chinese airlines will need about 6,000 new jets worth $945 billion over the next two decades.

The C919 is touted as a rival to single-aisle jets the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.

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Chinese media said the plane will cost around $50 mln, significantly less then a Boeing 737 or Airbus 320, its closest equivalents.

"It will take some time for customers around the world to be comfortable buying Chinese airplanes", he said, adding, "it's not going to happen in the next ten years".

The plane still relies on a wide array of imported technology though, it is for instance powered by engines from French-US supplier CFM International.

The new announcement comes in the wake of growing demand in Chinese aviation market.

China's first domestically made commercial jet, the twin-engine regional ARJ-21, flew its first passengers in June 2016, eight years after its first test flight.

Besides the C919, China is also working with Russian Federation to develop a long-haul wide-bodied jet called the C929.

Airbus delivered 153 aircraft to Chinese operators a year ago, including 141 from the A320 family, Eric Chen, president of Airbus Commercial Aircraft China, said in an emailed statement.

"China knows it still has a long way to go before it's seen as competitive or even desirable by Western markets, especially considering its past attempts", Sinolink Securities analyst Si Jingzhe, told Reuters.

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