MIAMI – The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) successfully completed today the C919 passenger jet maiden flight. The aircraft landed at Shanghai Pudong International Airport after an 1 hour 19 minutes flight.
China’s first home-grown airliner made a major step for their country as it looks to boost its profile in the global aviation market. The C919 jet was built at a reported development cost of $8.6 billion. It has passed a series of technical and safety tests since rolling off the production line in 2015.
The official Xinhua News Agency said China had become “one of the world’s top makers of jumbo aircraft,” becoming the fourth large jet producer after the U.S., Europe, and Russia.
The C919’s main customers will be China’s domestic airlines. China Eastern Airlines will be the first carrier to operate the aircraft when it completes testing and secures approval from China’s aviation regulator.
With the offer of low-interest loans, China can encourage its state-controlled airlines to purchase the C919 or a smaller homegrown regional jet. The aircraft already received 570 firm orders. COMAC forecasts the sale of more than 2,000 C919 jetliners within the next 20 years.
“China wanted to build a homegrown airliner so it would no longer relinquish its lucrative large commercial airplane market to foreign companies,” said Derek Levine, author of “The Dragon Takes Flight,” a book which traces China’s effort in building the C919, “it has more to do with nationalism than commercial intent,” estimating that only 30 percent of the plane is Chinese-made, with most key components from engines to avionics coming from U.S. companies.
This is a great step for the Chinese economy since it boosts its profile in the global aviation market. They, with the narrow-body aircraft of 168-seat, that has a flying range of 3,000 miles, are competing with the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320.
Reflecting the importance of the Chinese market (which buys more than 25 percent of Boeing jets and supports 150,000 U.S. jobs) Boeing opened its first overseas finishing center in China last March. This follows the move already made by Airbus to set up a final assembly plant in China in 2008.
“Boeing has a long-term view and strategy for the China market,” said John Burns, president of Boeing China. “We are a supplier, customer, competitor and business partner to China’s aviation industry. COMAC is a widely respected company and their products will compete in the global aviation airplane industry; at times we will both compete and collaborate with each other.”
Airbus also “welcomes” the competition brought by the C919 “which is good for the development of the industry,” said Amelia Xu, spokeswoman for Airbus China.
China has the world’s fastest-growing aviation market, which will eventually overtake the United States. China’s ambitions to muscle into a global jet market estimated to be worth $2 trillion over the next 20 years.
The C919 “clearly represents the hope to retain China’s huge share of the global aviation market at least partially in China,” said Professor Gao Yuanyang of Beihang University, China’s leading school of aeronautics and astronautics.