China's homegrown jumbo passenger jet takes to the sky

If the one-and-a-half-hour test flight is successful, the aircraft's maker, state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd., or Comac, will then seek certification from China's civil aviation authority and foreign regulators before making any deliveries.

Thousands of workers, government officials and aviation enthusiasts gathered to cheer as China's C919 passenger plane touched down at Shanghai's global airport Friday after its maiden trip to the sky.

Comac is a state-owned Chinese company and symbolises the government's desire to break into the commercial aviation space.

China's first large passenger jet just completed its maiden flight today (May 5), but it will have to wait at least three years before it carries actual passengers. With China's aviation market growing rapidly as a rising middle class travels more for leisure and business, the C919 aircraft is also expected to eventually take market share from Boeing and Airbus in the lucrative narrow-body market, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the aircraft in service worldwide.

"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 plane, which can carry 158-168 passengers, had no passenger seats installed for the maiden flight. Already, COMAC has received 20 orders for the C919 from the US-based aircraft lessor GE Capital Aviation Services, amid a total of 570 orders from domestic and overseas companies.

Comac itself functions as the main vehicle in implementing large passenger aircraft programs in China.

"The significance is huge, it's the first ever large-frame aircraft made in China". The single-aisle plane, which is created to seat as many as 174 people, is slated to enter commercial service with China Eastern Airlines 2019.

The C919 will need to pass more tests to obtain Chinese airworthiness certification and COMAC hopes to get the green light from U.S. and European regulators.

The C919 is touted as a rival to single-aisle jets the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.

Those numbers will likely grow - China's expected to overtake the USA as the world's largest aviation market by 2024. Boeing anticipates the country will need $1 trillion worth of planes- more than 6,800 of them-in the twenty years through 2036.

Shaking the dominance of giants Boeing and Airbus in the near future is unrealistic, as the experts have pointed out, but the Chinese jetliner could be a strong option for global carriers in decades to come. That marked the forth and last ground test before first flight.

Airbus has five joint ventures in China, including a factory that assembles A320s in Tianjin, a port city near Beijing, that opened in 2008.

The C919 plane, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, owns independent intellectual property rights for the design.

  • Eleanor Harrison