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Maiden flight of first China-made passenger plane important in aviation

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-05-05 17:27

BEIJING - China's homegrown large passenger plane, the C919, took to the skies on Friday in the eastern city of Shanghai, marking a great improvement of China's innovative capability and high technology in aviation and aerospace industry.

Departing from Shanghai Pudong International Airport at around 2 pm (0700GMT) with five crew members on board but no passengers, the twin-engine plane signals the country's entry into the global aviation market as a strong competitor.

China's efforts in aviation

Within only 10 days, China has successively launched its first home-made aircraft carrier and large passenger plane, showing its determination to implement "Made in China 2025," a plan to transform China from a manufacturing giant into a world manufacturing power.

Douglas Royce, an aerospace expert at Forecast International, an aerospace market research firm, told Xinhua that "the Chinese government is interested in establishing independence and self-sufficiency in all aspects of aviation, so it is as much a national project as it is a commercial venture."

In 2007, plans to develop a Chinese-built large passenger jet were approved by the State Council. In November 2015, the first C919 jet rolled off the assembly line.

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

With a standard range of 4,075 kilometers, the narrow-body jet is comparable with updated Airbus 320 and Boeing's new generation 737.

Royce believed that "the Chinese government is engaged in a long-term process of catching up to Europe, the United States, and Russia in commercial aircraft. This is one step in that direction."

Michel Merluzeau, director of Air Insight Research, an aerospace & defence market analysis and consulting group, based in Seattle, told Xinhua that he was impressed by the role of the Chinese government and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), the manufacturer of the C919, to accelerate innovation and implement innovative programs.

Accessing to international market

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.

Merluzeau anticipated that by the mid-2030s, COMAC is going to become an important partner to the global aerospace supply chains, owing to the growth of supply chains in China proper and partnership and the importance of market. "It cannot be ignored," he said.

However, "at least in the early years of service, demand will be centered in the Chinese market and a few satellite markets," Royce commented on C919's competitiveness with Airbus and Boeing, which are competitive rivals for China's jet and have spent decades competing fiercely against each other.

In Merluzeau's view, Western certification is a major challenge facing the Chinese passenger jet now. Getting European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification would be a huge win for the program as it carries different weight comparing with China's certification recognition.

"If achieved, I think it will greatly enhance the accessible market of C919," he said.

Royce anticipated that the COMAC is likely to become a major player in the airline segment over a very long term.

"It's not something that will happen over the next decade, but rather is a long-term process that will require ongoing support from the Chinese government," he said.

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