Noting a key milestone for a country seeking a place in the global aviation market, the first large Chinese-made passenger jet has taken off on its maiden flight.
At the Pudong international airport in the commercial hub Shanghai as a crowd of thousands cheered, the C919 single-aisle jet, which can hold up to 168 passengers, soured over everyone.
China has long sought to enter the lucrative global jet market, which is estimated to be worth $2 trillion over the next 20 years and it is one of the biggest aviation markets, but relies on foreign-made aircraft.
But due to production issues, the maiden test flight had been pushed back at least twice since 2014. A skeleton crew of five people and no passengers were part of Friday’s flight.
Friday’s flight represented a “huge moment” for China, said aviation analyst Tom Ballantyne.
“It is important for the Chinese government to show that its industrial processes are on par with the West or are heading in that direction,” he said.
Foreign firms are playing key roles by supplying systems as well as engines while the 39-metre long plane is made in China.
While a spokesman for the aircraft’s maker said it cannot compare, the Chinese plane is touted to rival to the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.
“You can’t compare us to Boeing or Airbus, they’re in a different strategic stage … We took half a century to solve the first strategic issue [of plane development], it will also take many years to solve the second [market] problem,” Jeff Cheng, a spokesman for the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), told Reuters news agency prior to the maiden flight.
The C919 will not be able to fully compete with Western-made planes until years from now, Ballantyne said.
“This Chinese aircraft will have to prove itself in operation before any Western airline will even consider purchasing it,” he said.
Ballantyne added that “it is very unlikely that it will be able to compete in terms of technology and economics with the new-generation aircraft” produced by of Boeing and Airbus.
COMAC, the aircraft’s maker, will seek certification from China’s civil aviation authority and foreign regulators after Friday’s maiden successful flight.
570 orders and commitments from 23 customers, mainly Chinese-owned carriers and leasing companies have already been received by COMAC.
Among the biggest issues for the C919 internationally will be the safety certification of the new plane. But at a price tag of less than half that of a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, the state media says it will have a catalog price tag of around $50 million, is one of the major advantages that the plane has.
However, in order to secure a foothold outside of China, questions remain regarding the safety approvals needed for the C919.
Chinese airlines now buy nearly 7,000 planes – mostly from Boeing and Airbus, and they are the ones who are expected to drive demand over the next two decades for the aircraft.
Since the 1970s when Jiang Qing, leader Mao Zedong’s wife and a member of the notorious “Gang of Four”, personally backed an attempt, China has dreamed of building its own civil aircraft since then. But only three Y-10 was ever made as its heavy weight made it impractical.
Eight years after its first test flight, passengers were flown in China’s first domestically-made regional jet, the twin-engine regional ARJ21.
On the path laid out by Chinese leaders to transform the country into a creator of profitable technology, the development of the C919 is a key step.
(Adapted from Aljazeera)