The numbers behind China's massive aviation market

Over 80,000 people (link in Chinese) participated in discussions of a live-streaming of flight on technology giant Tencent's video site.

The International Air Transport Association estimates China will overtake the United States as the world's top aviation market by 2024.

While the C919 is part of China's goal to break into the Western-dominated global aviation industry, USA experts believe the new Chinese-made passenger planes pose no threat to companies like Boeing and Airbus.

The crucial step for C919 is to get a certification from Europe's aviation safety regulator to be able to survive successfully on the worldwide market.

The first C919 will mainly test the flying conditions, the onboard equipment and the landing gear, while the second or No.102 jet will be tested mainly on the engine and fuel systems, said Mao Wei, director with the test flying engineering department with the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), the developer of C919.

With the takeoff, China's official Xinhua News Agency said the country had become "one of the world's top makers of jumbo aircraft", becoming the fourth jumbo jet producer after the U.S., Europe and Russian Federation.

Comac said more than 200 Chinese companies and 36 universities have worked together to develop the C919 aircraft.

A successful test flight is critical to the research and development of large passenger planes, while the follow-up research is still arduous, said Vice Premier Ma Kai.

China is also reportedly building various runways across the country for C919 test flights.

Airbus has five joint ventures in China, including a factory that assembles A320s in Tianjin, a port city near Beijing, that opened in 2008. Boeing earlier predicted that China will need 5,110 new single-aisle airplanes through 2035.

"What really impresses me with COMAC and with Chinese aerospace industry as a whole is that, we have traditional aerospace cycles in Europe and North America every 10, 15 years", Merluzeau said. The global jet market is estimated to be worth $2tn (£1.55tn) over the next 20 years.

The C919 is a competitor for Airbus' A320 and Boeing's 737 and will offer configurations of between 158 and 172 seats. China hopes, in the course of time, to convert the current worldwide airliner duopoly of Airbus and Boeing into a triumvirate, by making Comac a major manufacturer as well.

The start of aerial testing kicks off months or years of grueling certification tests, and meeting safety standards might require design changes.

The C919, developed and produced by Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China, or COMAC, was initially planned to be completed in 2012, with the first delivery in 2016.

"Boeing has a long-term view and strategy for the China market", said John Burns, president of Boeing China.

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

  • Zachary Reyes