China's first homegrown passenger plane takes to the sky for maiden flight

Gladys Abbott
May 17, 2017

The aircraft maker, state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd., or Comac, will seek certification from China's civil aviation authority and foreign regulators before making any deliveries. "Although it could be a long road, we will work hard to chase that goal (of manufacturing a large aircraft)", he had said during a 2014 visit to Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), the Shanghai-based manufacturer of the plane.

The narrow-body of the first Chinese-made passenger jet - white with green and blue stripes with "C919" emblazoned on its tail - soared over Pudong worldwide airport in the commercial hub Shanghai as a crowd of thousands cheered. China's first large homemade passenger jetliner is due to make its maiden flight from Shanghai later Friday, May 5, 2017.

The official Xinhua News Agency said China had become "one of the world's top makers of jumbo aircraft", behind the US, Europe and Russian Federation, while the event was live broadcast on state-owned channel CGTN.

The C919 can seat 168 passengers and has a range of 5,555 kilometres (3,444 miles). China Eastern Airlines 600115.SS is the launch customer for the plane, which COMAC says has 570 orders from 23 customers.

Boeing predicted last year that China will become the world's top aviation market within 20 years, projecting a demand for more than 6,000 new aircraft in the next two decades with a total value of 1 trillion USA dollars.

China's first large jetliner, the C919, took its maiden flight on Friday.

By 2035, COMAC aims to take a third of the Chinese narrowbody market and a fifth of the global market.

Most of the flights will be on single-aisle jets like the C-919.

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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. To meet that demand, Boeing predicts China will need 6,800 new airplanes, valued at $1 trillion, over that time period, as its economy and middle-class continue to grow.

Some relevant stocks have already posted strong gains lately, including Changzheng Engineering (603698.CN), Spring Airlines (601021.CN) and Shanghai International Airport (600009.CN).

The landing gear was extended throughout the entire flight, which appeared to be uneventful.

"Engineers have completed over 118 tests and are prepared for the maiden flight", COMAC said.

A story today in state-owned organ Xinhua headlined "China-made C919 no challenge to Boeing, Airbus dominance" therefore looks like a deliberate attempt to douse such worries.

The safety certification of the new plane - which state media says will have a catalog price tag of around $50 million, less than half that of a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 - could be among the biggest issues for the C919 internationally.

The statistic is a good reminder that developing an aviation industry takes many decades.

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