China’s first domestically-manufactured large passenger jet has successfully completed its maiden commercial flight. State TV showed the C919 rising into the skies above Shanghai, heading to the capital Beijing early on Sunday. It was built by the Commercial Aviation Corporation of China (COMAC) in the hope of breaking the dominance of Airbus and Boeing’s single-aisle jets.
But the 164-seater still relies heavily on Western components, including engines and avionics. The Shanghai-Beijing leg of the journey, with more than 130 passengers on board, was completed in just under three hours.
“I’m really confident in our country,” said passenger Liu Peng. He told Reuters news agency C919 “will definitely get better and better”.
“I’m feeling very emotional,” said 21-year-old student and flight enthusiast LV Boyuan. He spoke to Reuters at Shanghai airport before he boarded a normal flight to Chengdu, from where he planned to take a return C919 flight the day after.
Designed to compete with large jumbo jets from Europe’s Airbus and the US airplane maker Boeing, the C919 can carry many more passengers and has a much longer range than its little brother, the ARJ21 – China’s first domestic jet, in service since 2016.
State-backed China Eastern Airline has ordered five of the newer, bigger planes. Comac – which plans to produce 150 planes annually in five years’ time – says it has already secured more than 1,200 orders for the C919.
Some experts, however, say that most of these orders are believed to be letters of intent from domestic customers. President Xi Jinping, who sat in the cockpit of a mock-up C919 a few years ago, has described the project as one of China’s most innovative achievements.
The C919 made its first test flight in 2017 and has undergone several similar flights since.