China hits a milestone in commercial aerospace May 5, Friday, as its first homegrown passenger jetliner flies for the first time, embodying its goal of challenging the leadership of Boeing and Airbus.

The white C919, which the Chinese government decided to develop in 2007, successfully took on its maiden flight after a detailed pre-flight check. Its manufacturer, the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China or COMAC, declared the endeavor a success even before takeoff.

Cracking The Commercial Passenger Flight Duopoly

It is widely known that China developed the aircraft to “crack Airbus and Boeing’s duopoly” on the commercial jet market, seeking to have a share in the global aviation sector, Chinese news agency Global Times reported.

The paper added that 23 foreign as well as domestic customers have already ordered 570 of the narrow-bodied jets, including the likes of Air China and China Southern Airlines Co.

The C919 jet has a standard range of 4,075 kilometers, a maximum altitude of 12,100 meters, and a capacity of 158 seats. It boasts of comprehensive avionics system, structure design, fly-by-wire control system and active control technology, and a large proportion of advanced metal components, the report noted.

The first C919 aircraft was delivered to COMAC’s Flight Test Center in December last year, and it underwent its first high-speed taxiing test and liftoff of front wheel just last April 23.

Top Chinese leaders attended the historic event, including President Xi Jinping who told workers during a recent visit that they need to spend more on the research and manufacture of their own airliners.

“We used to believe that it was better to buy than to build, better to rent than to buy,” he said.

The C919 is designed to directly compete with the Airbus 320 as well as the Boeing 737, both single-aisle planes considered the global airlines’ workhorses. This vision of competing in the global commercial aircraft market took off from 1972, when President Richard Nixon made his trip to China in a Boeing 707.

Chinese officials adored the plane and later purchased 10 Boeing 707 jets, along with spare Pratt & Whitney engines.

A Long, Arduous Journey For The C919

It could take years or decades to develop an aircraft that is cheaper to fuel and more efficient to maintain. Parts such as engines and cockpits are another crucial consideration, where the C919 itself is filled with materials made by Western companies such as General Electric.

Flight safety regulators in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere in the world also need to certify planes before their broader sale outside China.

The Shanghai-based COMAC is directly controlled by the Chinese cabinet. And for the country itself, the birth of the C919 is deemed the beginning of a long journey, where, for instance, the state-controlled airline industry may still be required to purchase the jet even if it proves less fuel-efficient than Western options.

Optimism remains, and $15 billion is expected in C919 sales in its 20 or more years of production. COMAC is also looking to design and manufacture a wide-body jet that can fare well against larger planes such as the Boeing 747 and the A340.

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