In the market dominated and overpowered by American Boeing and European Airbus, China is looking to make headway with its first homegrown passenger plane. The 168-seat C919 jet made its first flight on Friday afternoon, to the cheering crowd and much fanfare on the social media.
The C919 is completely “Made In China” backed by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) and comes after anticipation and delay of three years caused by production issues. China has been trying to make its mark in the large passenger jets industry, starting with the attempted revival of the defunct Shanghai Y10 in the 1980s which didn’t turn out to be viable. And before C919, they also came up with Comac’s ARJ-21 regional airliner, which made its first commercial flight in 2015.
The flight was turned into a public event and a moment of national pride as over 3.3 million users on China’s Weibo social network enjoyed the official live stream. The verified account of a home-appliance company commented,
“Before, the dragon [reference to China’s domestically-built aircraft carrier] took to the sea, now the phoenix have gone to the skies! My country is strong!”
Another verified account of an electronics manufacturer said:
“China is the best! Bring our portable charger along on your maiden flight, would you?”
A shoemaker said:
“With an aircraft carrier sailing the four seas, and a plane going up the nine skies, isn’t our country strong? Click like for the motherland!”
While Comac’s maiden flight was nothing short of impressive, there’s still whole work ahead of it if they want to tap into the Boeing-Airbus’ duopoly. Comac doesn’t have any global certifications at the moment, so they can only sell its jets to a handful of developing countries in South America and Southeast Asia, as reported by Reuters.
The only foreign airline that has used the C919 so far is Thailand’s City Airways, which ironically lost its operating certification last year, Bloomberg reports.
“Aviation is a complex market and you need experience over a long time. Boeing has 100 years, Airbus has over 40 years,” Si Jingzhe, an analyst with Sinolink Securities, told Reuters.
Still, China is working with Russia’s state-owned United Aircraft to move towards bigger and better long-haul jets, the first of which would be the C929. The design was revealed back in November, and both of the companies have said that they aim to conduct a maiden flight for the C929 as soon as 2022!