China is ready to flex its aviation muscle in the global market as its much-awaited domestically made large passenger plane made its maiden flight on Friday (5 May). The plane called C919 is thought to pose a major challenge to Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. The global jet market is estimated to be worth $2tn (£1.55tn) over the next 20 years.
The jetliner is made by state-owned firm Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) located in Shanghai. The country first announced plans to build the plane in 2008, but production issues repeatedly pushed the flight back.
The cost of manufacturing the aircraft was reported to be around $50m, which is thought to be less than half the price of building a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.
The narrow-body aircraft took off from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Friday. There was a slight delay with the takeoff due to the weather — maiden aircraft have stricter weather requirements to follow compared to daily flights.
The jet made a successful landing after an 80-minute flight.
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 jet flew over the Yangtze River and headed north, Reuters noted.
While C919 is a home-grown aircraft, it has been dependent on foreign technology. One of the biggest components of the C919 jetliner — the core processing and display system — is being supplied by a joint venture between GE Aviation Systems and AVIC, a state-owned Chinese military contractor. French-US supplier CFM International has provided technology for the aircraft's engines.
Other suppliers include Honeywell, Rockwell Collins, United Technologies' subsidiary Goodrich and a unit of Parker-Hannifin Corporation.
Comac said it has already received orders for 570 planes from around 23 customers, mostly Chinese carriers, including the country's main China Eastern Airlines.
The company first unveiled a model of the C919 aircraft at the Asian Aerospace Expo in Hong Kong in September 2009, Reuters reported. But it was only in November 2015 that China unveiled the aircraft in public for the first time. It was technically ready for takeoff in March this year.
The C919's maiden flight comes weeks after Boeing announced its decision to launch a larger version of its 737 jet within two months.
The crucial step for C919 is to get a certification from Europe's aviation safety regulator to be able to survive successfully on the international market.
China's ambition to build its own civil aircraft dates back to the 1970s. The C919 is the largest commercial airliner designed and built in China since the defunct Shanghai Y-10.
The Y-10 was built in the 1970s but it was eventually deemed unviable due to its heavy weight and never entered service. Only three of the aircraft were ever made in the country, BBC noted.