China’s first large homemade passenger jet, touted as a competitor to Boeing and Airbus, made its maiden flight from Shanghai on Friday, signalling the Communist country’s entry into the global aviation industry.
The 158-seater C919 took to the skies from Shanghai Pudong International Airport and made China the fourth jumbo jet producer after the US, Europe and Russia.
The twin-engine plane departed with five crew members on board but without any passengers.
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 km, 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 mark, state-run 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.
In 2007, plans to develop a Chinese-built large passenger jet were approved by the government.
In November 2015, the first C919 jet rolled off the assembly line.
“Engineers have completed over 118 tests and are prepared for the maiden flight,” COMAC said.
The plane passed expert technical appraisal this March.
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 $1 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.