SHANGHAI – The first Chinese-built passenger jet completed its maiden flight on Friday, mounting a major challenge to Boeing and Airbus.
After about 90 minutes in the air, C-919, the first large domestically made passenger Chinese aircraft, landed safely back at Pudong airport in Shanghai.
The symbolic flight, which the government has celebrated as further evidence of China’s rise, was broadcast live on state-controlled television.
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Made by state-owned firm the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), it has been in planning since 2008 but the flight was repeatedly pushed back.
For Friday’s maiden flight, the plane carried only its skeleton crew of five pilots and engineers and took off in front of a crowd of thousands of dignitaries, aviation workers and enthusiasts.
Ahead of the flight, state television said the plane would fly at an altitude of only 3,000m (9,800 feet), some 7,000m lower than a regular trip, and reach a speed of around 300km/h (186mph).
The C919 is designed to be a direct competitor to Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus A320. It is a single-aisle twin-engine plane with a capacity to seat up to 168 passengers.
It will have a range of between 4,075 and 5,555km (2,532 – 3,452 miles).
According to Chinese media, it will cost around $50m, less than half of a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.
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.
Orders have already been placed for more than 500 of the planes, with commitments from 23 customers, say officials, mainly Chinese airlines. The main customer is China Eastern Airlines.
Europe’s aviation safety regulator has started the certification process for the C919 – a crucial step for the aircraft to be successful on the international market.
It’s estimated that the global aviation market will be worth $2tn (£1.55tn) over the next 20 years.
Late last month, China launched its first domestically-made aircraft carrier, which will reportedly be operational by 2020.