China’s first large domestically made passenger aircraft has completed its maiden flight, mounting a major challenge to Boeing and Airbus.
After about 90 minutes in the air the plane landed safely back at Pudong airport in Shanghai.
The plane is a key symbol of Beijing’s soaring ambitions to enter the global aviation market.
The jet by state-owned firm Comac has been planned since 2008 but the flight was repeatedly pushed back.
For Friday’s maiden flight, the plane carried only its skeleton crew of five pilots and engineers and took off in front of a crown of thousands of dignitaries, aviation workers and enthusiasts.
Ahead of the flight, state television said the plane would fly at an altitude of only 3,000 metres (9,800 feet), some 7,000 metres lower than a regular trip, and reach a speed of around 300 kilometres (186 miles) per hour.
The C919 is designed to be a direct competitor to Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus A320.
It’s estimated that the global aviation market will be worth $2tn (£1.55tn) over the next 20 years.
China’s new pride of the skies
- The C919 is a single-aisle twin-engine plane with a capacity to seat up to 168 passengers.
- It will have a range of between 4,075 and 5,555km (2,532 – 3,452 miles).
- According to Chinese media, it will cost around $50m, less than half of a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.
The plane still relies on a wide array of imported technology though, it is for instance powered by engines from French-US supplier CFM International.
Orders have already been placed for more than 500 of the planes, with commitments from 23 customers, say officials, mainly Chinese airlines. The main customer is China Eastern Airlines.
Europe’s aviation safety regulator has started the certification process for the C919 – a crucial step for the aircraft to be successful on the international market.
China has had ambitions to build its own civil aircraft industry since the 1970s, when leader Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing, personally backed a project.
But the Y-10, built in the late 1970s, was impractical due to its heavy weight and only three of the aircraft were ever made.