Pilots pose in the cockpit of the C919 before its maiden flight on May 28.
A nation building its first domestically developed and manufactured single-aisle passenger aircraft is a quite a feat. Taking on the world's two giant competitors may be even more challenging.
As this week's maiden commercial flight of the C919 has shown, China believes the sky's the limit in its goal to reduce reliance on foreign aircraft manufacturers and bolster its standing in the global aviation market.
A decades-long dream come true, the C919 was developed by Shanghai-based Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC). The aircraft carries up to 168 passengers and has a range of over 5,000 kilometers, throwing down a challenge to the global domination of the Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 series.
China Eastern Airlines' first commercial flight of the C919 ferried passengers from Shanghai to Chengdu, capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan.
The achievement is the result of collaborative efforts involving over 1,000 companies and 300,000 researchers for over a decade.
The C919, operated by China Eastern, takes off from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.
China is expected to surpass the United States by 2040 to become the world's largest aviation market, according to the predictions of COMAC.
Over 40,000 large- and medium-size commercial aircraft are needed globally in the next two decades, and the China market will account for a quarter of the total. In the past, the nation's booming aviation demand has relied on purchases of planes from Airbus and Boeing
The C919 has already received 1,200 orders from over 30 customers, including Germany's PuRen Airlines, Thailand's City Airways and other Asia-Pacific and African carriers. COMAC is predicting annual production of the C919 will reach 150 soon.
The C919 claims several advantages over its rivals, such as reduced carbon emissions through the use of new composite materials, a 10-percent lower purchase cost, improved cabin comfort and a more spacious cockpit.
Top officials from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China and China Eastern were among the dignitaries on the C919's first commercial flight.
So far, so good. Passengers on the historic maiden flight praised the spacious, comfortable cabin space and the aircraft's smooth takeoff and landing.
Foreign media expressed skepticism, raising concerns about safety standards and noting that many parts for the new plane came from overseas suppliers. Some called the C919 a mere imitation of Boeing and Airbus models and said China faces great challenges in its bid to penetrate an international market so dominated by foreign manufacturers.
China remains undaunted. It noted that the C919 was subject to the most rigorous testing and validation procedures, exceeding international safety standards. The new aircraft was subjected to more than 200 hours of test flights – double the requirements of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, according to the China Eastern.
However, the C919 has yet to receive airworthiness certification from the Federal Aviation Administration in the US and the European Aviation Safety Administration, which it will need to effectively compete globally.
Congratulations on the maiden flight from strategic partners like Honeywell bode well for those certifications to come eventually.
Flight attendants were as excited as passengers to be part of history.
The story of China's aircraft industry really has been inspiring. It started in the 1970s, when the nation embarked on its first attempt to develop its own commercial aircraft.
Designed in Shanghai, the Y10 was China's first commercial jet, with 125 seats. It was flown for more than 170 hours in test flights between 1980 and 1984, but, in the end, the project was scrubbed because of economic and political factors.
Only two Y10 aircraft were ever made. The one on exhibit in the Shanghai Aircraft Design and Research Institute, where the C919 was assembled, stands as a memorial to the problems faced in the startup of a new industry.
The C919s are currently using the LEAP ("leading edge aviation propulsion") engine developed by CFM International, a venture co-owned by General Electric of the US and France's Safran.
A prototype of China's domestically developed CJ1000 engine, to be used on the C919.
However, the successful test flight of the domestically manufactured CJ-1000A engine – to be used in the C919 – paves the way for further localization of crucial components.
Additionally, collaboration with Russia on the wide-body CR929 aircraft has opened new doors and strengthened China's position as a major player in the global aviation industry.
The wide-body jet, which will be ready for test flights in 2025 and delivered to airlines from 2028, will seat 280 and have a range of up to 12,000 kilometers. It will be assembled in Shanghai.
The maiden commercial flight of the C919 is a source of national pride in China. And it reminds everyone that the best is yet to come.
Editor: Xu Qing