China-made jet takes off in maiden flight

07 May, 2017, 14:05 | Author: Valerie Burke

The white, green and blue aircraft, with "C919" emblazoned on its tail, sped along the tarmac at Shanghai's worldwide airport and lifted off under overcast skies in front of thousands of dignitaries, aviation workers and enthusiasts.

State media burst with pride and patriotism as the plane's debut flight from Pudong International Airport in Shanghai was broadcast live, adding that around 3,000 officials, executives and other onlookers clapped "ecstatically" as the plane landed, carrying a skeleton crew of five pilots and engineers.

Beijing is also already looking beyond the C919, with plans to develop a wide-body long-haul jet with Russian Federation.

Chinese government has been making efforts to reduce dependence on European consortium Airbus and USA aerospace giant Boeing.

In 2007, Wen Jiabao, the incumbent premier, (and later to be Bo's political rival later), approved the grand project of making China's own passenger planes and agreed to form the large passenger plane company, COMAC. However, the aircraft was not rolled out until October 2015 following program delays.

Michel Merluzeau, director of Aerospace & Defence Market Analysis for AirInsightResearch in Seattle, was also impressed by the great efforts made by the Chinese government in accelerating innovation.

The narrow-body twin-engine jet is meant to compete against Airbus A320 neo, Boeing 737 MAX, Bombardier and other next-generation single-aisle airliners.

The flight makes China the fourth jumbo jet producer after the United States, Western Europe and Russian Federation.

While the C919 is part of China's goal to break into the Western-dominated global aviation industry, USA experts believe the new Chinese-made passenger planes pose no threat to companies like Boeing and Airbus.

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So far, 23 foreign and domestic customers, including China's national carrier Air China and leasing company GE Capital Aviation Service, have placed orders for 570 aircraft, according to COMAC. "It can not be ignored", he said.

China finally launched its C919 airliner in Shanghai Friday after nearly three years of delays in a bid to take on the aviation duopoly of Boeing and Airbus.

In Merluzeau's view, Western certification is a major challenge facing the Chinese passenger jet now.

The successful flight signals China's entry into the global aviation market, and moves the country one step closer to transforming itself from a manufacturer of low-priced goods to a creator of advanced technology.

"If achieved, I think it will greatly enhance the accessible market of C919", he said. Second, "the ability of COMAC to probably innovate fast and shake up what we see as a cycle here in North America".

Xinhua correspondents Ma Dan in San Francisco, and Lin Xiaochun in Washington contributed to the story. By the end of past year, 21 customers had placed orders for more than 500 C919 aircraft, and COMAC expects to sell at least 2,000.

The aircraft's first flight marks the first step in a testing campaign that will run up to 4,200 hours, and involve six test aircraft.

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.

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