Boeing, Airbus Have Chinese Rival

China's homegrown large passenger plane C919 makes its maiden flight in Shanghai, east China, on May 5.

The state company formed a 50:50 partnership past year with Russian counterpart United Aircraft Corp to develop a longer-haul passenger plane, with the companies earmarking a maiden flight in 2022, with deliveries beginning as early as 2025.

The first C919 single-aisle aircraft which rolled off the assembly line in Shanghai in November 2016 took off from the fourth runway of the Pudong airport at 2pm and landed at 3:19pm smoothly. If winning the certificates and creating service networks takes too long, COMAC may lose sales opportunities while the quality of rival planes advances.

The "C" in the aircraft's name stands for both China and COMAC, while 9 symbolises "forever" in Chinese culture and 19 represents the maximum 190 seats capacity.

With the flight, the official Xinhua News Agency said China had become "one of the world's top makers of jumbo aircraft", becoming the 4th Large Jet producer after the U.S., Europe and Russian Federation.

"The maiden flight is exciting", said Wu Guanghui, the C919's chief designer, hailing it as the start of a new era in China's advanced manufacturing.

When the much-delayed C919 program was launched in 2008, the maiden flight was originally scheduled for 2014 followed by first delivery to Chengdu Airlines.

In 2007, plans to develop a Chinese-built large passenger jet were approved by the government. More than 200,000 technicians worked on the project. "This is a great achievement in the history of COMAC and an important milestone for Chinese aviation", he said.

The plane still relies on a wide array of imported technology though, it is for instance powered by engines from French-US supplier CFM International.

COMCAR already has 570 orders from 23 clients but aviation website Airline Reporter points out that most-apart from 20 orders from GECAS, an aviation asset management service-are from other state-owned Chinese airlines and questions remain over whether the C919s will have global appeal. This centre will not assemble the airliners, however; it will fit out new aircraft assembled and flown in from the USA with cabin interiors and paint them in the customer-airlines liveries. Over 80,000 people (link in Chinese) participated in discussions of a live-streaming of flight on technology giant Tencent's video site.

5,100: Boeing estimates that the country will need a trillion dollars worth of new airplanes over the next two decades, including more than 5,100 of the same size as the C919.

The State Council, China's Cabinet, approved China's long-distance commercial aircraft project in February 2007.

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