China's first large passenger plane makes maiden flight
China's first large homemade passenger jet, touted as a competitor to Boeing and Airbus, made its maiden flight today, heralding the Communist giant's entry into the highly-competitive global aviation sector.
The 158-seater C919 aircraft took to the skies from Shanghai Pudong International Airport in eastern China and made the country the fourth jumbo jet producer after the US, Europe and Russia, the state media reported.
The 80-minute flight was greeted with applause by more than 1,000 spectators on the tarmac, including Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai and Shanghai Party chief Han Zheng.
The twin-engine plane departed with five crew members on board but without any passengers.
"The maiden flight was exciting," said Wu Guanghui, C919's chief designer, adding that it was a major breakthrough in China's civil aviation history, as well as the start of a new era of advanced manufacturing in the country.
The "C" in the aircraft's name stands for both China and COMAC, while 9 symbolises "forever" in Chinese culture and 19 represents the maximum 190 seats capacity.
With a standard range of 4,075 kilometres, the narrow- body jet is comparable with updated Airbus 320 and Boeing's new generation 737, signalling the country's entry into the global aviation market, Xinhua news agency reported.
It also marks a milestone for the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), the Shanghai-based manufacturer of the C919, it said.
China in recent times has been making big breakthroughs in aviation with new fighter aircraft, including a stealth aircraft, but this is the first time it came out with a passenger plane.
China's first amphibious aircraft, stated to be the largest in the world, successfully conducted its first glide test on April 29 in Chinese city of Zhuhai and braced for its maiden flight.
China began to develop its own jumbo passenger jets in the 1970s and the first one, the Y-10, had a successful test flight in 1980. But the project was abandoned later.
In 2007, the State Council, China's Cabinet, approved plans to develop a large passenger jet. In November 2015, the first C919 jet rolled off the assembly line.
The plane passed expert technical appraisal this March.
The aircraft was given the go-ahead in April to begin a series of high-speed taxiing tests, the final step before its maiden flight. More than 200,000 technicians worked on the project.
The jet was designed and produced in China and made with resources from around the world. It is an achievement in global cooperation, said Wu.
The C919 incorporates parts from over 30 global suppliers such as Honeywell International Inc. Its engines were made by a joint venture between General Electric and Safran Aircraft Engines.
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.
Both Airbus and Boeing have assembly plants in China considering the growing demand for new aircraft.
Airbus had delivered 153 aircraft to Chinese operators in 2016, its seventh consecutive year of more than 100 deliveries, AirbusChina said earlier this year.
A recent Boeing forecast said that China will need 6,810 new aircraft in the next 20 years at an estimated cost of USD one trillion.
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.
China's first regional commercial aircraft ARJ21 began commercial operation in June 2016.