China's first homegrown passenger jet makes maiden commercial flight

The C919 is China’s first domestically produced passenger jet to compete with Western rivals in the air. – AFP, May 28, 2023.

CHINA’S first domestically produced passenger jet, the C919, took off on its maiden commercial flight today, a milestone event in the nation’s decades-long effort to compete with Western rivals in the air.

China Eastern Airlines flight MU9191 rose into the skies above Shanghai Hongqiao Airport just after 10.30am (0230 GMT), footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed.

The plane is carrying over 130 passengers on China Eastern Airlines flight MU9191 to Beijing’s Capital International Airport, CCTV said.

The flight is expected to land at its destination at 1.10pm (0510 GMT), according to the airline’s website.

Footage broadcast by state media showed dozens of passengers gathering at the sun-drenched Shanghai airfield to admire the sleek white jet.

They then filed into the narrow-body plane which taxied to the runway before taking off.

Passengers received red boarding passes and will enjoy a sumptuous “themed meal” to commemorate the flight, CCTV reported.

China has invested heavily in the production of the homegrown jet as it seeks to become self-sufficient in key technologies.

Beijing hopes the C919 will challenge popular foreign models like the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320.

The aircraft is manufactured by the state-owned Commercial Aviation Corp of China (Comac), but many of its parts are sourced from overseas.

From tomorrow, the C919 will operate on China Eastern’s regular route between Shanghai and the southwestern city of Chengdu, CCTV reported.

“In the future, most passengers will be able to choose to travel by large, domestically produced aircraft,” CCTV said.

The first model of the narrow-body jet, which seats 164 passengers, was formally delivered to China Eastern in December.

Zhang Yujin, Comac’s deputy general manager, told state-backed Shanghai outlet The Paper in January that the company had taken over 1,200 orders for the C919.

Comac planned to increase annual production capacity to 150 models within five years, Zhang said at the time.

Asia and China in particular are key targets for both Airbus and its American rival Boeing, which are looking to capitalise on growing demand for air travel from the country’s vast middle class.

Last month, Airbus said it would double its production capacity in China, signing a deal to build a second final assembly line for the A320 in Tianjin.

The first assembly site in the northern city opened in 2008 and produces four A320s a month, with Airbus hoping to increase that to six per month before the end of the year. – AFP pic, May 28, 2023.

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