China's C919 passenger jet takes to the skies challenging Boeing and Airbus

The C919 project was first conceived in 2008 with the intent of taking market share from Boeing and Airbus. Chinese companies also supply components and parts to both Boeing and Airbus.

The new large civil aircraft, independently developed in China, is seen as the country's boldest attempt till date to challenge the monopoly of Western players in the commercial passenger jet market.

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 Communist Party chief Han Zheng.

The government hopes the C919 will prove a major competitor for aviation giants Boeing and Airbus, specifically the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. The Tianjin FAL is a joint venture between Airbus, the China Aviation Industry Corporation and the Tianjin Free Trade Zone.

The aircraft is expected to compete with the updated Airbus A320 and the new-generation Boeing B737 now dominating the domestic passenger jet market.

COMCAR already has 570 orders from 23 clients but aviation website Airline Reporter points out that most-apart from 20 orders from GECAS, an aviation asset management service-are from other state-owned Chinese airlines and questions remain over whether the C919s will have worldwide appeal.

In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also not given airworthiness certification, "thus limiting the plane's access to overseas markets", Levine said.

THE second C919 narrow-body aircraft will roll off the assembly line this year for further test flying, officials announced today.

However, Levine said the project "has more to do with nationalism than commercial intent", estimating that only 30 percent of the plane is Chinese-made, with most key components from engines to avionics coming from US companies.

"The significance is huge, it's the first ever large-frame aircraft made in China", Xiong Yuexi, a plane design expert at Beihang University in Beijing said ahead of the launch. The plane's front windshield is composed of only four pieces, instead of six found on normal planes, to help reduce air resistance, Global Times reported. Mohshin said much of China's aircraft technology started from Russian Federation, and the Tianjin factory has since given China's supply chain vital experience.

An article in China Daily, another news outlet from the state-run stable, is slightly, but only slightly, more positive about the C919. Of the new planes, 75 percent are expected to be single-aisle.

Certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency looms after a panel discussion with their Chinese counterparts in late April. Over the next 20 years, the IATA forecasts there will be an additional 817 million passengers from China alone, making it the world's fastest growing market.

  • Zachary Reyes