The first large Chinese-made passenger jetliner is making its maiden test flight Friday from Shanghai in a symbolic milestone in China’s long-term goal to break into the Western-dominated aircraft market.
China is touting the C919 as a rival to single-aisle jets the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. The plane was originally due to fly in 2014 before being delivered to buyers in 2016, but has been beset by delays blamed on manufacturing problems.
If the maiden flight is successful, the aircraft’s maker, state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd., or Comac, will then seek certification from China’s civil aviation authority and foreign regulators before making any deliveries.
“The C919 will be a game-changer for China’s aerospace industry,” Corrine Png, chief executive officer of Singapore-based research firm Crucial Perspective, told Bloomberg.
Bloomberg reported that the Chinese used at least 15 partners from the West, including companies like General Electric and Honeywell International.
The jet’s development is a key step on the path laid out by Chinese leaders to transform the country into a creator of profitable technology.
Comac says it has 570 orders, mostly from state-owned Chinese airlines. A total of 23 domestic and foreign customers have placed orders. The handful of foreign customers includes GE Capital Aviation Services and Thailand’s City Airways.
The plane can come with 155-175 seats and has a standard flight length of 2,530 miles.
China’s first domestically made jet, the twin-engined regional ARJ-21, flew its passengers in June 2016, eight years after its first test flight.
The Bloomberg report said Boeing predicted late last year that China will require over 6,800 aircraft valued at more than $1 trillion through 2035. Boeing, which is reportedly planning to build a facility in China, reportedly congratulated Comac on the plane’s development.
“The real challenge is how they are going to be able to demonstrate to the customer outside of China that they can support and service the aircraft,” an expert told Bloomberg.