The first large Chinese-made passenger jetliner completed its maiden test flight on Friday, a milestone in China's long-term goal to break into the Western-dominated aircraft market. The takeoff of the C919 brought cheers and applause from hundreds of invited guests at Shanghai Pudong International Airport and was broadcast live on Chinese state television. 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 the 1 ½ hour flight was over, the test pilots came down smiling from the plane, wearing orange overalls with the Chinese flag.
With the flight, the official Xinhua News Agency said China had become "one of the world's top makers of jumbo aircraft," becoming the fourth large jet producer after the U.S., Europe and Russia. China is touting the C919 as a rival to single-aisle jets such as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. It was originally due to begin flying in 2014 and be delivered to buyers in 2016, but has been beset by delays blamed on manufacturing problems. It's now unlikely to carry commercial passengers until at least 2019.
Mohshin Aziz, a Kuala Lumpur-based aviation analyst at Maybank Kim Eng Securities, said it wouldn't be clear for 7-9 years whether the C919 can make a dent in Airbus and Boeing's duopoly.
"This is just the test flight," he said. "Eventually it needs to have some cornerstone customers, of which it will have because there are state-owned airlines, some of them are going to be forced to use it."
Mohshin said other potential customers would wait to see what experience the first customers have. "You are not going to spend a lot of money on something you don't know," he said.
The aircraft's maker, state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd., or Comac, will seek certification from China's civil aviation authority and foreign regulators before making any deliveries. Bao Pengli, deputy director of Comac's project management department, said Thursday the manufacturer planned to make two planes a year from now to 2019 to obtain proof of safe flight before any mass production is started. The plane can be configured with 155-175 seats and has a standard flight length of 4,075 kilometers (2,530 miles).