Made-in-China passenger jet set to take wing

Before takeoff, CCTV state television said the plane that was built by state-owned aerospace manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) would be tested at an altitude of 3,000 meters, some 7,000 meters lower than a regular trip, and at a speed of around 300 kilometers per hour.

China's first homegrown narrow-body passenger jet, the C919, took off from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport on its maiden test flight on Friday.

The C919 - whose key parts include engines and avionics systems provided by 15 global companies such as General Electric and Honeywell - has received 570 orders from 23 foreign and domestic customers, including China's national carrier Air China and leasing company GE Capital Aviation Service.

The 158-seater C919 aircraft took off from Shanghai Pudong International Airport in eastern China, making the country the fourth after the United States, Europe and Russian Federation to manufacture aircraft.

It is created to be a direct competitor to the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320.

It has a range of 5,555 kilometres (3,444 miles) and has received 570 orders, nearly all from domestic airlines.

Comac will seek certification from China's civil aviation authority and foreign regulators, making two planes a year from now until 2019 before beginning mass production, said company officials.

The European Aviation Safety Agency has started the certification process for the C919 - a crucial step for the aircraft to be successful on the global market.

"The significance is huge - it is the first ever large-frame aircraft made in China", Mr Xiong Yuexi, a professor and plane design expert at Beihang University in Beijing, told Reuters earlier.

The surge in air travel has been fueled in large part by middle class Chinese who are spending billions on domestic and foreign vacations. Of the new planes, 75 percent are expected to be single-aisle. "The C919's debut flight is a complete success", said Cai Jun, captain of the flight.

People in China, though, are cheering the successful first flight.

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 government says the ability to build and fly a modern passenger plane would be the "pearl" and "flower" of modern manufacturing, a centerpiece of the government's "Made in China 2025" industrial plan that also includes ambitions to develop world-class robotics, advanced information technology, medicines and hi-tech transport industries.

China is touting the C919 as a rival to single-aisle jets such as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.

However, according to commentators, the programme was years, if not decades behind aircraft made by Airbus and Boeing that were cheaper to fuel and easier to maintain.

The jet was designed and produced in China and made with resources from around the world.

  • Anthony Vega