Comac C919 takes off for maiden flight in China

Beijing/Shanghai: In a major step marking its entry into the global aviation market, China's home-grown C919 passenger jet landed successfully in Shanghai after an 80-minute maiden flight on Friday.

The C919 is touted as a rival to single-aisle jets the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.

Spectators take photos as they watch China's homegrown C919 passenger jet coming in for a landing on its maiden flight at Shanghai's Pudong airport.

China is also reportedly building various runways across the country for C919 test flights.

The narrow-body C919 jet - white with green and blue stripes - disappeared into the clouds after taking off from Pudong International Airport in the commercial hub Shanghai as a crowd of thousands cheered.

Comac itself functions as the main vehicle in implementing large passenger aircraft programs in China. State broadcaster CCTV sent out live footage from the plane, which had no passenger seats installed for the maiden flight. The jet soon became invisible on a windy and polluted day in Shanghai, which was also in the path of dense sandstorms from the north.

After a flight lasting just over an hour, smiling test pilots disembarked to jubilation on the ground, where large screens beamed images of the airborne jet. The Chinese project was riddled with technical problems and delays from the outset (the test flight Friday was originally scheduled for three years ago) and it relies heavily on foreign technologies to function.

It is now unlikely to carry commercial passengers until at least 2019. The industry ministry said in a statement the flight went smoothly and that all the systems functioned properly. It makes sense. China buys most of its planes from Boeing and Airbus, and last year, Boeing predicted that Chinese airlines would spend about $1 trillion on more than 6,800 new planes over the next 20 years.

While the C919 is being hyped up in Chinese media as being "homegrown", experts are quick to note that that doesn't mean all the plane's parts were made in China. Most are state-owned Chinese airlines. The handful of foreign customers includes GE Capital Aviation Services and Thailand's City Airways.

"Aviation is a complex market and you need experience over a long time". The plane is thus expected to make its global debut in the 2020s.

Ballantyne added that "it is very unlikely that it will be able to compete in terms of technology and economics with the new-generation aircraft" produced by of Boeing and Airbus.

"Although it could be a long road, we will hard work to chase that goal (of manufacturing a large aircraft)", he said.

With a maximum range of 3,450 miles, the plane is powered by two LEAP-1C engines from CFM International Inc., a joint venture between Safran SA and General Electric Co. The first deliveries of Chinese-developed engines are expected in 2020, according to the company tasked with making them, AVIC Commercial Aircraft Engine Co. Ltd. "It has a great impact for the Chinese people and the domestic market".

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

The statistic is a good reminder that developing an aviation industry takes many decades.

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