China's first indigenous passenger jet completes maiden flight

The maiden flight of China's C919 passenger plane, scheduled for Friday from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, represents one step towards the country's bid to reduce reliance on foreign airliners.

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 commented.

Boeing predicts that over the next two decades, China's air passenger traffic will swell by 6 percent annually, stimulating the need for 6,810 new planes worth a total of $1 trillion (£770 billion).

China has had ambitions to build its own civil aircraft industry since the 1970s, when leader Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, personally backed a project.

As China continues to make waves in the global commercial airliner market, the country conducted its first successful test flight Friday of the C919 passenger jet.

Ahead of the flight, state media reported that the aircraft would only fly at an altitude of around 3,000m (9,800ft) and at a speed of around 300km (186 miles) per hour. The plane was originally due to fly in 2014 and be delivered to buyers in 2016.

Comac says it has 570 orders from 23 domestic and foreign customers, with most from state-owned Chinese airlines. The C919 is mostly based on Chinese design, however there was involvement from Western suppliers that have contributed various components, including the Leap-1C engines, and Honeywell (NYSE: HON) flight control and navigation systems.

Conceived in 2008, China wants the C919 to eventually take market share from Boeing and Airbus in the lucrative narrow-body market which accounts for more than 50% of the aircraft in service worldwide.

The Chinese jet's first flight is the biggest and most visible milestone in its development.

But it will take years to reach that destination, and the aircraft maker is likely to focus first on domestic customers.

Spectators take photos as they watch China's homegrown C919 passenger jet coming in for a landing on its maiden flight at Shanghai's Pudong airport. The number of trips made previous year increased by 12% over 2015, according to CAAC.

At the same time, China's aviation market is growing rapidly as a rising middle class travels more for leisure and business. "Boeing has 100 years, Airbus has over 40 years", said Sinolink Securities analyst Si Jingzhe, adding COMAC still lagged far behind in terms of supply chain know-how.

It will need to be certified by safety regulators in Europe, the USA and elsewhere, before it can be sold outside China. The jet may yet have to undergo years of tests to get certified in China, not to mention the United States and Europe.

In 2007, plans to develop a Chinese-built large passenger jet were approved by the government.

  • Zachary Reyes