Sat, May 06, 2017 - Page 10 News List

China’s first big passenger jet takes its maiden flight


Flight crew members wave as they exit a Chinese C919 passenger jet after its first flight at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China, yesterday.

Photo: Bloomberg

The first large Chinese-made passenger jet yesterday took off on its maiden flight, a symbolic milestone in China’s long-term goal to break into the Western-dominated aircraft market.

The takeoff of the C919 elicited cheers and applause from hundreds of invited guests on the ground at Shanghai Pudong International Airport and was broadcast live on Chinese state television.

The jet soon became invisible against the dark skies on a windy and polluted day in Shanghai, which was also in the path of dense sandstorms from the north.

With the takeoff, Xinhua news agency said China had become “one of the world’s top makers of jumbo aircraft,” becoming the fourth jumbo jet producer after the US, Europe and Russia.

China is touting the C919 as a rival to single-aisle jets the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. It was originally due to fly in 2014 before being delivered to buyers last year, but it has been beset by delays blamed on manufacturing problems. It is now unlikely to carry commercial passengers until at least 2019.

If the one-and-a-half-hour test flight is successful, the aircraft’s maker, state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd (COMAC, 中國商用飛機), will seek certification from the Civil Aviation Administration of China and foreign regulators before making any deliveries.

Bao Pengli, deputy director of COMAC’s project management department, on Thursday said the manufacturer planned to make two planes a year from now to 2019 to obtain proof of safe flight, before any mass production would be started.

COMAC says it has 570 orders, mostly from state-owned Chinese airlines. A total of 23 domestic and foreign customers have placed orders. The foreign customers include GE Capital Aviation Services and Thailand’s City Airways.

The plane can come with 155 to 175 seats and has a standard flight length of 4,075km.

COMAC says more than 200 Chinese companies and 36 universities have been involved in the research and development of the aircraft.

However, it also relies on foreign-made technology for critical systems, including its engines, which are made by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric Co’s aviation subsidiary and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines.

The first deliveries of Chinese-developed engines are expected in 2020, said AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine Co Ltd (中航商用航空發動機), the company tasked with making them.

China’s first domestically made jet — the twin-engine regional ARJ-21 — flew its passengers in June last year, eight years after its first test flight. That smaller jet is a rival to aircraft made by Bombardier Inc of Canada and Brazil’s Embraer SA.

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